Dominion’s Parra Receives Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award
Carlos Mauricio Parra-Quintero, a Spanish teacher at Dominion High School, received the Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award on Monday, May 14th, at Marymount University’s Education Dinner.
The award, established by the Hispanic Youth Foundation, is named for a remarkable teacher who was a leader in establishing schools, training teachers and developing textbooks and curricula for schools across Latin America. She also was active in the Reading is Fun-damental and Head Start programs in the United States. In 2008, the award was endowed at Marymount University so that outstanding Hispanic teachers in the community will continue to be recognized.
Leveo Sanchez, grandson of Victoria D. de Sanchez and co-chair of the selection committee, presented the award and a $2,000 check to Parra, saying that he exemplifies his grandmother’s vision of education – strengthening students, families and communities.
In his teaching, Parra makes use of his theatrical background and knowledge of instructional technology to create innovative, interactive lessons that help students connect with the material and with each other. He is also the sponsor of the school’s Latin Dance Team and organizes an annual Latin Dance Competition, which now includes teams from more than 10 schools.
A native of Colombia, Parra was a drama teacher in his native country. He first came to Loudoun County in 2003 with his wife, who was a Visiting International Faculty (VIF) teacher. Parra worked at a Subway and other menial jobs after arriving in America. He then decided to return to teaching because it is a calling in life.
“I teach for love.”
Parra worked as a long-term substitute at Loudoun Valley and Stone Bridge high schools before finding a permanent home at Dominion in 2007. In 2008, his students asked him to become the sponsor for the Latin Dance Team, even though Parra had some severe reservations.
He was studying for his permanent teaching license.
He didn’t really like dance.
Parra explained there’s a natural enmity between actors (like him) and dancers. Actors usually want to do only the choreography necessary for a part. After his students pleaded with him, Parra finally relented and became the Dance Team sponsor.
Parra used his own lack of dancing expertise as a starting point for his students.
“We’re going to learn for ourselves. We’re going to be our own teachers.
“I know the stage. I know how we have to move on the stage. I know how to create something to say on the stage. I applied my drama skills on the stage.”
Parra and the dance students used Google and You Tube to learn new dance steps. “We are like a GPS; go to this place… We create a new culture; you dance, I dance.”
Winning the Victoria D. de Sanchez Award was a surprise, said Parra.“I didn’t expect that…I do this because I love it. I love to trade ideas with my students. (I tell them) ‘You have to learn to be something in your life. In the future, somebody’s going to remember who you are; what you did in this school…We have to do something in this life.’ ”
Parra said he especially cherishes his role as a link to the Latino community.
“You see too many things in their life for young people.”
Parra said some Latino students come to this country without the proper documentation because their family wants desperately for them to have an education and the opportunities America offers. Coming to a foreign country with no close friends or relatives and a limited understanding of English can be a daunting task.
“Their only friend is their pencil and their paper…It’s a new life. They didn’t make that decision. They have to do it. They are here…
“A teacher has two positions: do something for them or don’t do anything for them. What happens in the future with those guys? Are they on the street doing bad things? Or we can teach them about America; how you have to be in America. You have to be a good American…This is your future…
“Nobody wants something wrong for America…
“We have to open minds, open possibilities; to do something good in your life.”
This is Parra’s final year at Dominion. His visa expires July 30th and he’s going back to Colombia. Parra said he may resume teaching there.
“I like my place here at Dominion High School. It’s a place to do something new with students, something to involve the community.”
Dominion Principal Dr. John Brewer had high praise for Parra in his recommendation letter for theVictoria D. de Sanchez Award.
“‘Caring’ is the first word that comes to mind when I reflect upon Mr. Parra’s work. Mr. Parra’s amazing skill as an instructor empowers him to teach Spanish for fluent speakers and Advanced Placement Spanish concurrently. This combination of courses has strongly benefitted Hispanic students…. For many of our students who are learning English as a second language, AP Spanish represents the first point of entry into the Advanced Placement curriculum, opening up a new world of educational opportunities.”
Dominion junior Martha Diaz, who is captain of the Latin Dance Team, has been taught by Parra since her freshman year. Diaz is planning to attend college and ultimately become a school counselor or elementary school teacher. “Mr. Parra inspired me to pursue my goal in achievable steps,” said Diaz. “He has helped me clarify my goals and my dreams.”