SHS teacher recognized with Christa McAuliffe Prize

August 3, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — Elena Garcia, an English and theater teacher at Scottsbluff High School, was recognized this summer for her work with the Christa McAuliffe Prize for Courage and Excellence in Education.

Christa McAuliffe was a New Hampshire teacher, who was killed in the Challenge space shuttle explosion on Jan. 28, 1986. The prize was created by UNL professor Gregg Wright in 1987 to recognize Nebraska teachers who show courage in education. The prize has been awarded every year since then.

Garcia was nominated by Allison Areeda, who she had taught in Michigan, supervised as a student-teacher and now works with at SHS. She was told she’d won the award in June and, on July 26, was presented with it in Kearney at Administrators’ Days.

“I got a standing ovation from 300 administrators,” she said, “which was amazing.”

At the award ceremony, Garcia’s work with her theater students to create a play about suicide prevention was highlighted as courageous.

“The kids had recognized (suicide) was a problem and wanted to do something about it,” she said. “They researched the topic, found the best way to approach it. They all completed a course in suicide prevention and wrote this play and performed it with the idea of making a difference for the better in the community.”

The plaque she received along with the award includes a picture of McAuliffe and a depiction, taken from the state capitol building, of a teacher guiding her students in the blizzard of 1888.

As a child, Garcia watched her parents strive to get teaching jobs, that inspired her to go into teaching herself.

“My mom subbed for 20 years,” she said. “My dad joined the state police in Michigan, and he still would sub and still try to get a teaching job, so I grew up thinking that it must be the best job in the world because they wanted it so badly.”

Her parents also built a pretend-classroom for her to play in, “with a real chalkboard and real bulletin boards and real desks,” she said. “They would bring home real stuff from school. I had a real grade book that I could write in.”

Garcia said her teaching philosophy is student-centered.

“I differentiate, I start with them where they’re at,” she said. “I give them every possible way to show me what they know.” She particularly enjoys watching her theater students mature through drama.

“In theater, you see these kids, these freshmen who start out so nervous,” she said, “and they grow into their own skin and become leaders and are so strong at the end of four years.”

SHS Principal Mike Halley said he was pleased to see Garcia’s work being recognized.

“Elena’s ability to reach our kids on some tough subjects is appreciated,” he said. “We’re excited for her that she was recognized for this.”

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