Juliana Urtubey is a first-generation Colombian immigrant changing the lives of her students at Kermit R. Booker, Sr. innovative Elementary School in Las Vegas.
The bilingual elementary special education teacher, and National Board-certified instructor, was named the 2021 National Teacher of the Year award from the White House on October 18 for her excellence in education. She is the first Latina to receive the distinction since 1952.
"As a special education teacher, my job is to make sure my students see themselves the way I see them, with all their possibilities and abilities to improve their school community," she said at the ceremony.
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As an instructional strategist, Urtubey supports her students from pre-kindergarten to 5th grade in emotional, academic, and behavioral needs. She is known as "Ms. Earth" for beautifying schools and unifying the community by raising funds to build gardens and murals.
As National Teacher of the Year, she plans to advocate for inclusive and celebratory education that incorporates diverse identities, family, and community.
Urtubey was given the title in March, but the ceremony was postponed due to COVID-19. She joined last year's honoree, Tabatha Rosproy, who also attended the event.
First lady Jill Biden spoke at the ceremony, praising Urtubey and other educators for their hard work and commitment to their students, especially during the pandemic, saying they performed "small miracles" in their classrooms every day.
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"Teachers found new and innovative ways to connect," she said. "You worked long hours, you reworked those lesson plans...overnight, and you reimagined what a classroom could be...We're still wrestling with the challenges of this pandemic, but you and teachers like you across the country found the courage and strength to keep going," she added.