Of Colorado’s 178 public school districts, the Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) has a special teacher in its ranks.
Autumn Rivera was named one of seven finalists for the 2022 Colorado Teacher of the Year award. She teaches sixth grade science at Glenwood Springs Middle School (GSMS) and is currently in her 17th year in as an educator.
Second-generation Coloradoan, Rivera grew up north of Dotsero, in Sweetwater. Identifying herself as being of Spanish descent, she noted that her father was born at Valley View Hospital. His grandfather was a trail patroller in Glenwood Canyon.
After graduating from Eagle Valley High School, she received a BA in Biology and an MA in Science Education in high school from Colorado College.
Starting her teaching career in Colorado Springs, she taught science in grades seven and eight. After living there for 12 years, she returned to the West Slope. As Rivera said, “The big city was a bit too much, and I needed to get home to my mountain.”
Colorado Department of Education (CDE) spokesperson Jeremy Meyer said the Teacher of the Year program is part of Colorado law and must be administered annually by the CDE.
Meyer explained, âThere are two paths to becoming Colorado’s Teacher of the Year: you can be nominated to apply or the teachers can apply themselves. In this case, Autumn was nominated by someone from her school community and invited to apply. “
Rivera was one of the state’s 26 teachers to apply. Meyer explained that the review board is a “diverse group” of staff from the CDE, education-focused nonprofits, and the Colorado Education Association (CEA) – the teachers’ union of the United Nations. ‘State.
She spent this summer answering education-focused application questions, which required answers of 500-600 words. After the examination of the applications by the jury, seven finalists were selected. Meyer said: “Then the teacher of the year will finally be announced by the end of October.”
Having taught at GSMS for ten years, Rivera’s goal is to “get students excited about science.” She is a firm believer in experiential education, having recently led her ecology unit’s annual âgreat expeditionâ to observe Colorado River conditions. She said, âBecause of this local phenomenon that just happened, we are studying the Grizzly Creek fire, including how it affected the Colorado River and the mudslides. We took the students rafting last week because I think if we want to know more they should see it with their own eyes.
Rivera also believes in equal opportunity in the classroom. Including all of the students on this excursion, she said, âI try to focus on fairness and make sure everyone has the same opportunities and the support they need. I want to make sure that I give them the same basic knowledge before moving forward. I said, ‘Let’s all go in class and see this burnt area’ – it helps all the students to be on the same page.
The National Teacher of the Year began in 1952 to recognize excellence in teaching. Since its inception, two Colorado Teacher of the Year have received national accolades – in 1965 Richard E. Klinck of Reed Street Elementary in Wheat Ridge and in 1978 Elaine Barbour of Coal Creek Elementary in Montrose.
The most recent RFSD teacher to receive Colorado’s Teacher of the Year award dates back to 2016, when Leticia Guzman Ingram – teacher and English Language Development (ELD) Program Coordinator at Basalt High School – was chosen.
This summer, Science Friday, a weekly talk show on public radio stations that focuses on science news and information, reached out to Rivera to be part of their series of educators looking for ways to teach during the pandemic.
She collaborated with Dr. Selina Wang, a researcher at the University of California, Davis’ Olive Center. Wang is researching antioxidants in food, and she and Rivera specifically talked about olives. Rivera recalls: âThe research was fascinating. I created a resource to accompany his research so you can use it in a classroom setting, and then we presented it as a forum for educators to educators across the country.
Rivera teaches her students that the opportunities, especially in the world of science, are endless. She said: “I heard [animal behavioral scientist] Dr Temple Grandin spoke at a conference and explained that students would only be interested in the jobs we teach them. There are so many amazing jobs and careers that they don’t even know about. If they’re not exposed to it, they won’t even know it might be a possibility. So it’s our job as teachers to help students see a wide range of different possibilities.
Rivera, a college science officer for RFSD, has also advocated in virtual state-level meetings. She is a board member of the Colorado Association of Science Teachers, representing the Western Slope and volunteers from the Colorado Science Education Network, and also serving on their board of directors.
Meyer said the Colorado Teacher of the Year is also a member of the Colorado Education Commissioner’s teachers’ cabinet. They will meet and get to know other Teacher of the Year recipients and are eligible to be selected as National Teacher of the Year.
Denver7 sponsors the Colorado Teacher of the Year program. Partners of the award include CEA, Adams State University and Blue Bell Ice Cream.
âTeaching is not an individual job, it’s something we do as a team. I have had incredible teammates and support throughout my career and am so grateful to them and my students. They make me laugh and amuse me. I’ve looked at other jobs, but haven’t found any other jobs where you can have Spirit Days yet. Until I can organize a Spirit Day elsewhere, I think I will stay in the teaching world, âRivera said.
Here are many other spiritual days throughout Rivera’s teaching career.