Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!
Gabriela Nunez-Reagan, another past nominee, came to the U.S. at age 15, not knowing any English. She’s now been teaching for 19 years. She’s been at Belvidere’s Seth Whitman Elementary for 11 years, with the last five years as the First Grade Dual Language teacher. She helped develop the district’s dual language framework and created the first grade dual language curriculum, which focuses on biliteracy, bilingualism and biculturalism. All her students are second language learners, with 10 speaking Spanish at home and 12 having English as their first language. She shares with the students that she has made and continues to make mistakes in English and it is OK to correct mistakes. “I tell them that learning a second language is hard, but we need to take risks, be positive, and keep trying.” Gaby emphasizes that though everyone has different backgrounds, they can all learn from each other. “We work, learn, laugh and sometimes we cry happy tears together.” She realized what a family she has built in her classroom when talking about slavery and segregation during a lesson about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “My students did not think segregation was fair. While I was reading several books on the topic, I noticed how, little by little, all of my students were getting closer and closer to my only African American student, as if they were trying to protect him.” Jennifer Jacky, CEO of the Belvidere Family YMCA, a community partner with Seth Kids, was thrilled her daughter was in Gaby’s class. “Gaby not only instilled a love of learning in my daughter, but also the importance of being kind to others and a love of giving back to the community.” Gaby is one of the head advisors for Seth Kids, a group of third-fifth graders whose goals are to be school leaders and give back to the community. One service project she coordinated emerged from her knowledge of and care for students. When Gaby learned about a student’s struggling family, she stepped up to ensure that the family would not miss out on a special Christmas time. She created a themed-tree for which the Seth Kids made the decorations, organized a present drive and even delivered the tree herself. Donating a Christmas tree and gifts to a needy family is now a school tradition.