High school teacher Laurie Rodriguez was shocked to find out that she was one of the teachers granted a $2,500 award through the Farmers Insurance Thank America’s Teachers program.
“I didn’t expect to win because usually I don’t win anything I apply for,” Laurie shared. “Then one day I was checking my email and my kids heard me screaming. They were like, ‘What?’ and I told them I won the $2,500.”
Receiving the grant came to Laurie as a surprise, but then again, teaching came to her as a surprise as well.
Creating Her Classroom
Before Laurie began teaching juniors and seniors at United South High School, she was a manager at a clothing store. Her employees would tell her she should be a teacher. This wasn’t too farfetched as her mother, brother, and sister are all teachers. Eventually Laurie’s mother convinced her, and she went back to school.
Laurie is now in her tenth year teaching. She spent the first five years teaching seventh grade in a middle school and the past five years as an education and training teacher for mostly high school juniors and seniors.
Her goal is for her students to become teachers. She aims to model what a good teacher can be, and hopes they will use her methods when they go on to teach.
To make learning fun, Laurie has a vision for how her class should look which includes many manipulatives (an object that helps students learn concepts by manipulating it). However, she teaches at a Title I school, where it’s often difficult for students to come to class with supplies on their own. Laurie is typically limited to a budget of $500, which is not enough to make her classroom vision come to reality.
“My vision is to have my classroom look inviting and positive, so my kids have something they can look forward to when they come in,” she said.
Laurie hangs visuals to make her classroom look inviting, like an elementary school classroom. She hangs up class projects to help the class create an identity. They all work together to create an image that represents the class and the theme for the year.
“I’m really big on putting the kids in teams because in the real world you work in teams,” she said.
Giving Students Real World Experience
The money from Farmers Insurance helped Laurie stock all sorts of supplies she can use for her classroom, including things her students will use when the class volunteers at a nearby elementary school. Volunteering is just one more way Laurie helps her students build experience.
“I always try to instill in them not to just go through the motions, but to really take something from every experience,” she said. “If they can take something from every experience then they can be a well-rounded individual.”
Beyond volunteering with organizations like Junior Achievement, Laurie gives her students the opportunity to compete nationally. Laurie is a Texas Association of Future Educations (TAFE) sponsor. Her organization in Texas (Career and Technical Student Organization), is an affiliate with the national organization Educators Rising, which hosts the competitions.
“Our competition surrounds education, so having a team that takes their experiences and applies them to a competitive event is a big extension of how my program works beyond the classroom,” Laurie said.
The past two years the school has made it through regionals and state to get to nationals. Two years ago her team placed 7th and 10th. Just last year four of her students qualified. One competed in an individual event for Exploring Education Innovation Careers and placed third. Three were on the same team and placed first in the Recruitment and Marketing team event.
“I take a lot of pride in what I teach and getting the kids involved in the Career and Technology Student Organization because these are experiences that will contribute to their success as educators,” Laurie said.
‘Thank You’ Goes a Long Way
Laurie said she is happy that so many of her students go on to become teachers. After they leave her class those students keep in contact with her. In fact, it was one of those students who sent a thank you note to qualify Laurie for the Thank America’s Teachers grant.
The sweepstakes requires a thank you and a proposal, where she explained her vision of preparing her students for college. After asking her friends and family members to vote for her, she received enough votes to receive $2,500 to keep her classroom stocked all year.
“I’m thrilled that I won this money. I definitely want to thank Farmers Insurance and thank the people that are giving us the opportunity to have this money because without this, programs like mine wouldn’t work,” she said.
View Laurie’s classroom page here.
Learn more about Thank America’s Teachers and Farmers Insurance here.
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