May 2, 2023 by HCDE Communications
Academic and Behavior School East was a source of pride this week as Harris County Department of Education leaders surprised LaToya Duckworth, the 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year, and Martha Ruiz, the Educational Aide of the Year, both of whom are staff members at the school, with their well-deserved recognitions.
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On the first day of Teacher Appreciation Month, Senior Director of Schools Charles Ned, Ed.D., Principal Donna Treviño-Jones, Ed.D., and Education Foundation of Harris County Director Cindy Tan visited the campus to present the winners with gift baskets and vanity checks.
“These teachers stood out because of the passion that poured out while telling their stories,” said Trustee Danyahel “Danny” Norris. “Their drive, enthusiasm, and dedication to our students on a daily basis are unmatched.”
Teacher of the Year
Teacher of the Year LaToya Duckworth has nearly 20 years of experience in education and uses her unique perspective to connect with the everyday needs of her students.
While studying criminal justice at Sam Houston State University, Duckworth worked as an educational aide at HCDE. As proof that educators can learn from their students, Duckworth was inspired by one of her students, whose life mirrored her own. As a former behavioral student, Duckworth realized the impact of being a positive role model. She decided to change her major and become a certified special education teacher.
This year, Treviño-Jones tapped Duckworth to spearhead the on-campus intervention program, which helps students regroup and work on social skills before returning to the classroom.
“Every day is different, and I don’t always know what to expect, but I know this is where I’m supposed to be,” said Duckworth. “This is where I grew up and these students, my colleagues, and the work we do, it keeps me encouraged.”
Earlier this year, Duckworth coordinated the first ABS East Book Fair which provided students with access to more than 200 books to enjoy at home. Despite a diverse population of students, she used the opportunity to help students find commonalities within their stories.
Awarded a $1,000 check sponsored by Imagine Learning, Duckworth plans to use the funds on gas money for her two-hour daily commute from Navasota, TX—yet another demonstration of her commitment to HCDE students.
“Our employees drive the services we offer and without them, we are just words on paper,” said Senior Director of Schools Charles Ned, Ph.D. “Our teachers forge quality relationships that make the difference between a student shutting down and being able to have a productive school day.”
Educational Aide of the Year
Martha Ruiz, the Educational Aide of the Year, was inspired to pursue a career in special education after her son was diagnosed with autism.
Ruiz studied therapies and techniques to help her son progress in the classroom and, in turn, found her passion. For nearly 10 years, she’s specialized in autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, and students with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD).
Ruiz describes herself as a student’s “backbone”—a tenacious support system that also discovers what sets each student apart, whether artistically or academically.
“I always let my students know that their disability is not who they are,” said Ruiz. “I never want them to feel like they are not accepted or loved. I want them to know that I believe in them and that they can achieve anything. That’s where I find my purpose.”
Ruiz was presented with an $800 check sponsored by Insights to Behavior. She plans to use part of the funds to celebrate her son’s high school graduation at the end of this month.
During the remainder of Teacher Appreciation Month, profiles of the finalists for this year’s Teacher of the Year and Educational Aide of the Year will be featured.