When students enter his classroom, David Quiroz, an Ignacio Middle School teacher, always asks if they’re getting enough sleep. It’s a simple question, but it’s the first step of Quiroz’s award-winning style of teaching.
Fort Lewis College bestowed Quiroz with the Southwest Rural Make A Difference Teacher Award last week at the third annual Teacher Network Symposium.
The award ceremony recognized impactful FLC teacher education graduates and professionals. Two other teachers, one from Cortez and one from Silverton, also won the award. In Ignacio, Quiroz supports students who have fallen behind in school as part of a schoolwide effort to find new ways to help kids.
For Quiroz, that means using yoga, mindfulness, community outreach and lessons he learned from his life before teaching.
“It’s really nice to be recognized for this work that doesn’t get a lot of hype,” Quiroz said. Along with the award, Quiroz received a $700 check, bronze kaleidoscopes and kaleidoscope glasses.
Quiroz said the award speaks to the school’s team effort – including counselors, teachers and administrators – to find new ways to support students.
Quiroz became a teacher at 42, intent on changing how schools support students who are falling behind.
“We’ve reached the performance category three out of the last four years, and I think his program contributes to that for sure,” said Chris deKay, Ignacio Middle School principal.
Quiroz leads the school’s Affective Program, an intervention program for students who have fallen behind in school. He works with about 15 students who might be struggling with the large groups in regular classes, behavior or academics. It also blends e-school learning with classroom teaching, deKay said.
“David, quite honestly, has had many of the ideas that have really made (the program) successful,” deKay said. “He truly has been a blessing to this school and this community.”
As the program name indicates, the program starts by recognizing a student’s affect, or state of mind, each day.
Students can’t start on academics until they have their mental, emotional and physical needs met, Quiroz said. That’s why he includes breathing exercises in class and asks students if they’re hungry or having a tough day.
In his classroom Monday, four students sat at desks or worked out math problems on the board while music by Tommy Guerrero, an ex-skater turned musician, played in the background.
The program’s small group sizes and extra one-on-one attention help, said Jordan Seagrave, a seventh grade student, and Marbella Torres, an eighth grade student.
“My grades the first quarter, they were like all F’s. He helped me get most of them up, just helping me understand all my work,” Seagrave said.
It was the same for Torres. Last year, she was written up 17 times and changed schools. Now, she’s doing better, partially because of the online learning program and Quiroz’s support, she said.
“He’s a really good teacher. He’s really positive,” Torres said. “He always tries to help us out and tries to talk whenever we need to talk. He’s there.”
For Quiroz, building relationships is paramount to getting the job done.
For example, the students have dinner at the local senior center twice a month, an experiential learning opportunity that builds community. Often shy, the students introduce themselves to the group, talk with the elders, then write about their experience.
“I think he’s in a program that makes sense for his personality,” deKay said.
“He has a lot of compassion, empathy and patience, but he also has structure.”
Quiroz also draws from his own life experiences to build supportive relationships.
Quiroz was born in the United States and raised in Mexico. He then moved to El Monte, a suburb of Los Angeles. At the time, El Monte was a place “that toughens you up,” he said. His parents pushed him to avoid gangs and to use hard work to find a way out.
After that, he worked in the California Conservation Corps, made music in Los Angeles, lived in Barcelona and worked in the restaurant industry.
“I know what it’s like to be in a bad place and have to overcome it,” Quiroz said.
That period of his life taught Quiroz to finish what he started and made him a firm believer in second chances. Now, he is trying to teach students to find the same resilience in themselves.
“In order for the kids to know what it means to explore those areas where they’re having some trouble, I have to model it,” he said. “I have to put myself out there, and I think I’m fearless in that respect.”