After leading the Dana Point City Council and members of the public in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish on Tuesday, May 16, RH Dana Elementary School third-grade teacher Maria Arbelo received recognition from city officials as a Teacher of the Year.
Twelve years into her teaching career including two years of teaching at RH Dana, Arbelo was recently honored by the Capistrano Unified School District as one of its top teachers for elementary schools.
Speaking to Dana Point Times, she talked about her love of teaching in RH Dana’s dual immersion program.
“I find that our students learn from and help each other as they learn another language,” Arbelo said in an email. “We build community and cultural awareness by learning from each other and other cultures. In the process, I hope that they know and feel that they are important, their thoughts and ideas are valued, and that they can make a difference in our world.”
Born in Miami, Florida and the daughter of Cuban immigrants, Arbelo said her family showed her that hard work and setting goals were important,
Arbelo was inspired to go back to school to get a degree in Elementary Education and Psychology. Arbelo’s husband reminded her that it’s never too late to return to school, encouraging her to attend a small private university in New Jersey to get her bachelor’s degree.
When her youngest son needed extra support in school, Arbelo was inspired to pursue a career in teaching.
“He had a great fourth-grade teacher that made sure that he received the help he needed to be successful in school,” Arbelo said. “By becoming a teacher, I hoped to be able to help my future students learn and grow and ensure they had the tools and support to know and feel successful, too.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Mike Frost noted that, as a father with a child at RH Dana, he’s seen the nurturing environment that the elementary school fosters.
“I can’t tell you enough how lucky we are to have not only you, but, gosh, all of your colleagues also,” Frost said.
In an email, RH Dana Principal Kristen Nelson added that Arbelo makes learning Spanish fun for her third-graders.
“The parents of her students also adore her and beg me to let her move up to the next grade level, so they can have her as a teacher again,” Nelson said. “She is a team player and always supporting the rest of the staff and taking on different jobs just to make sure everything runs smoothly. She is a critical part of the RH Dana team, and we are lucky to have her.”
At the council meeting, Arbelo commented that it was humbling and an honor to be recognized by her colleagues.
“It’s definitely a wonderful place to work,” Arbelo said of RH Dana. “The children are wonderful, our families are fantastic; I can’t say enough about my fellow staff and our own leader and our school.”
Arbelo added that one of the things she loves most about being a teacher is getting to know her students and making connections with them.
“I love the joy, laughter, and curiosity they bring each and every day. And I love watching them learn and grow,” Arbelo said.
“My goal is to help them see their strengths and become confident lifelong learners,” Arbelo continued. “I am so honored and humbled to be named Teacher of the Year and feel so blessed to be a part of the RH Dana family.”
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