Remember voting last month for the SPARK Award, the program that rewards outstanding HISD science teachers? Well, folks, we have a winner.
During a luncheon on Thursday at alliantgroup’s headquarters in the Galleria area, elementary science teacher Leticia Sifuentes was named this year’s SPARK Award winner for her outstanding work at Bonner Elementary School.
Sifuentes says she has worked alongside incredible teachers throughout her career, and that is why she is so honored to be chosen among them now.
“I am so excited to have won this award, especially with the company I was in. They are all fabulous teachers,” says Sifuentes. “I am extremely honored to have won this award for my students, because they are the reason I am here.”
Sifuentes has only been teaching at Bonner Elementary School for one year but is a veteran in the classroom, with 24 years of experience. She says her own fifth grade teacher inspired her to also become an educator.
“My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, was very interactive,” says Sifuentes. She was definitely somebody I looked up to and wanted to be exactly like.”
Sifuentes was selected among five other finalists, including: Melanie Jenkins with Katherine Smith Elementary School, Ruth Giles with Cornelius Elementary School, Mimi Muñoz with Seguin Elementary School, Gerjuan O’Neal with Mark Twain Elementary School, and Lynell Dillard with Clemente Martinez Elementary School.
All six teachers were gifted $500 toward their classrooms. The finalists were also given $1,300 for themselves and the winner took home $3,500 for herself.
Despite the competition, Sifuentes says this group of teachers has already become close and is focused on helping each other succeed in the classroom.
“They are all amazing teachers and we have a created our own professional learning community group,” she says. “We’ve started an email chat where we share ideas and collaborate with one another. That is one of the best things about meeting other teachers through this: We are all willing to help each other, which is how you become a better educator.”
The nominees were selected by HISD’s science curriculum department before being interviewed by a panel of judges, who ultimately chose the grand prize winner.
The panel included the newly appointed general manager of Univision, Glen Coleman; senior principal Frances Crossingham with Slalom Consulting; FOX 26 meteorologist Lena Maria Arango; and Ivan Rodriguez, who is the founder and CEO of Glocal Advantage.
They got the chance to meet the finalists, interview them, and then see a video of each teacher in action inside their classroom. Casey Curry, senior director of strategic communications and philanthropy at alliantgroup, says after getting to know Sifuentes better, she understands why the judges selected her as this year’s winner.
“Leticia was our honorable mention teacher in 2019 and I’m so thrilled she is our winner this year,” Curry says. “She truly embraces her students and because of her own experiences she is able to relate to them in a unique way.”
“Many times, my students think being bilingual is negative and keeps them from things, but I tell them it is their superpower,” says Sifuentes. “Now they have two languages they can use to be successful. I tell them they will use it all the time because it is quite valuable.”
This is the fourth year that alliantgroup has recognized and rewarded HISD elementary science teachers. You can learn more about this year’s SPARK Award nominees here.