MLFTC alumna awarded AZ Rural Schools Association Teacher of the Year

By

Meghan Krein

Vanessa Arredondo (BAE Elementary Education, Bilingual Education, ’14; MEd Curriculum and Instruction, ’16) was named Arizona Rural Schools Association Teacher of the Year for 2020.

Adding to her list of accomplishments, Arredondo is a first-generation college graduate. She came to the United States in third grade. “Like many of the students I teach, I had to learn English while adjusting to a new culture and living with family members,” she says.

In her seventh year of teaching, Arredondo teaches grades 6 through 8 at Salome Elementary School in La Paz county. The school has just under 140 students and approximately 10 students per class. As a little girl, Arredondo dreamed of becoming a teacher. But that dream went into overdrive when she began learning English. “I had amazing teachers, but not many could relate to me,” she says, adding, “I wanted to become the teacher I needed when I was young.” 

Arredondo says she enjoys teaching in rural schools because “I’m able to build stronger relationships with my students due to a small class size.” The one-on-one attention and personalized care she is able to provide her students is another draw to the rural classroom. “Class sizes are extremely important and I wish more classrooms throughout Arizona were smaller,” says Arredondo. 

Community is a large part of rural schools, says Arredondo. “Many of our students have been together for many years so they know each other very well.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges. “It really illuminated how much our communities depend on our schools,” says Arredondo. In rural Arizona, there is — there has been — a digital divide. When the schools switched to remote learning, many students lacked access to reliable internet and technology. “Our schools did their best, during these times, to provide hotspots and laptops to our students,” she says. 

The pandemic also shed light on the fact that many families were relying on school to feed their children breakfast and lunch, says Arredondo. Salome Elementary was quick to send buses, packed with meals, out on their regular route. 

Reflecting on her award, Arredondo summarizes her teaching style. “I’m a firm believer in building strong relationships with my students. Once students trust me and know I care about them — not just their grades — they work hard for me.” 

Prior to teaching at Salome Elementary, Arredondo taught in the Phoenix Elementary and Somerton Elementary School Districts. She is a National Board Certified Teacher Candidate with a goal of completing the final requirements at the end of this school year. She was previously named LaPaz County Teacher of the Year.