Theresa Chavez, of Ironwood Ridge High School, was recently recognized by Tucson Values Teachers for using education as a tool to impact the lives of children who face atypical adversity outside of the classroom.
Chavez is an English teacher at Ironwood Ridge High School.
In a new series called Teacher’s Voices, Chavez sat down with one of those students, Gabriel Ortiz, who credits Chavez for giving him the drive and strength to continue on with his education despite some desperate circumstances he was facing in his personal life.
“I thought school and life was over,” he said. “I’ve been trying to change everything around. I’ve changed how I thought about school, and that’s something I never would have done before.”
While Ortiz is no longer a student of Chavez’s, the seed of encouragement she planted in his mind has stayed with him, and he is now one year away from graduation.
For Chavez, going above and beyond for students is something that comes naturally, particularly when students lack the parental attention a normal student receives at home. For students like Evaijah Cruz and Jose Camancho, who both live in a group foster home, Chavez serves as a teacher, friend, and guide.
“For some of my kids, there is no mom and dad to keep a close eye on them,” said Chavez. “I try to engage them in a way to where that wall comes down, to where they aren’t shooting themselves in the foot, and to where they can enjoy learning.”
Cruz said Chavez is one of her favorite teachers because of her teaching style and ability to make her feel comfortable in the classroom.
“Sometimes I get stressed out or protective, but she has helped me realize not everyone is bad,” she said. “She is open to help me, and she explains the lessons well. It’s a much more comfortable environment than I am used to.”
Jose grew up in South Tucson with little money, and said coming to Ironwood Ridge was a big adjustment for him.
“A lot of kids come from money here,” he said. “I was struggling to eat, so it was hard to fit in at first.”
Camancho, who has spent the last seven months in his group home, said Chavez’s down-to-earth personality made the transition much easier for him.
“She doesn’t judge me for the situation I am in,” he said. “She shares a lot of the same views as I do. It’s good to have someone that thinks like I do. She’s the only person I’ve met like that in my whole life.”
Camancho said he is enjoying school now, and is more confident than ever he will get through it.
Chavez said she tries to use education as a tool to divert a student’s attention from any negative feelings that might come due to strenuous circumstances in their personal lives.
“I try to get them thinking about Romeo and Juliet, or Xerxes, or whatever we are covering in class” she said. “If you can get them to think about the curriculum in a fun way, education then becomes fun, and students get into a mind frame where academics are something worthwhile.”
Chavez, who said she and her brother had some difficult times growing up, finds it easy to relate to how children such as Evaijah and Camancho feel.
“If one person can be kind to kids like this everyday, it can absolutely make a difference,” she said.