By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) Rocio Meli, who teaches seventh and eighth grade Spanish and eighth grade English language development, a native speaker class, and InnoV8 at Castle Rock Middle School (CRMS), is one of seven finalists for Colorado Teacher of the Year.
Meli began teaching at CRMS 19 years ago and has devoted her career to helping students become bilingual and appreciate the cultures and values of people worldwide.
She’s also intensely committed to supporting her students’ social and emotional well-being beyond the classroom. “I love how my students know they can come to me for anything,” said Meli. “I help them learn self-advocacy, but they also know I will always advocate for them.”
What Meli loves most about teaching
In a time when headlines shout news of teacher dissatisfaction and burnout, Meli is a gentle wave in a sea of unrest. She says she could spend hours discussing why she loves her job.
Meli listed a few reasons why she’s eager to greet her students daily. Those reasons include seeing their faces in the morning, making a difference in their lives, finding ways to make learning fun and challenging, listening to and understanding their needs, challenging them to be better every day, and knowing each day will be different from yesterday.
Meli says her InnoV8 class uses design thinking, where students solve real-world problems. “What happens in my classroom doesn’t stay in my classroom,” said Meli.
Students research various topics in teams and then come together to decide what project is most interesting to them. Meli loves that the experience encourages them to “fly out of their comfort zone.”
In 2017, the class received a grant to take five students to Cuautla de Jalisco, Mexico, for ten days. Meli says she didn’t know what to expect, but they were on a mission to increase literacy and learn about the culture. “That trip began the Sister School Partnership,” she said.
In 2018, her students returned to Cuaultla, where they shadowed Mexican students and learned a great deal about the culture. Meli said some of her students continued participating in the program after leaving CRMS. One student is now a leader in the Hispanic community at CU Colorado Springs and is working to connect CU with the Sister School Partnership.
By 2019, word of the experience was out, and students eagerly began figuring out ways to give the foreign students what they needed most. They designed a backpack and packed supplies for every student. That year, the students donated 365 backpacks, 2,160 books, 12 Apple computers, and 11 bicycles.
The school in Cauaultla honored Meli by naming their library the “Rocio Lores de Meli Library."
Covid cut their 2020 trip short, but students had just enough time to explain a workbook, model lessons for the teachers, and teach a group of students. “I was beyond proud and look forward to returning with students once permitted,” said Meli.
With the Mexico trip on hold, Meli says her students donated 600 blankets to students affected by the Marshall fires in Boulder and sent 1,500 coloring books to children in Ukrainian shelters.
Why Meli loves teaching a foreign language
Meli knows it’s challenging to learn a language and that her students may have anxiety about communicating correctly and without mistakes. But, Meli said, “together, we learn how to overcome our fears and eventually gain the confidence to speak, write, listen and read in Spanish. Seeing my students’ enthusiasm about learning makes me realize I have the best job in the world.”
She also loves giving her students the opportunity to experience Latin culture, its people, traditions, and customs.
Meli’s appreciation for DCSD and CRMS
Meli said she wants to thank the Douglas County School District for opening the doors to a new career in a new country. “I am very grateful to have people around me at CRMS who have helped me achieve my dreams and support my students.”
“My class is where I find peace, even when the walls press in from all sides, presenting unique challenges. I couldn’t have found a better place to work then Castle Rock Middle School.”
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) will announce its sole finalist by the end of October.
According to the CDE, ”The Colorado Teacher of the Year receives many professional development opportunities and, along with the country’s other teachers of the year, is honored at a special ceremony at the White House and gets the opportunity to go to NASA’s Space Camp. The teacher also becomes a member of the Colorado Education Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet.”