ATC celebrates a Golden Apple

May 5—Kit Standridge has a special skill.

Inside her Spanish classroom at the Academy for Technology and the Classics, everyone is accepted and appreciated, said Jason Morgan, the school's principal.

"She's at the top of teachers who are just welcoming and caring and considerate of every student who walks through the door — making sure every one of them feels supported, feels included, feels belonging," Morgan said.

But it doesn't stop with the students.

"She is that for the adults, too," Morgan said.

Perhaps that's why Standridge's fellow teachers stood and cheered during a special ceremony Friday in ATC's gym as the Spanish teacher received a Golden Apple Excellence in Teaching Award.

From their place in the gym's bleachers, Standridge's students cheered, too, shaping their hands into hearts and mobbing the teacher with hugs and congratulations.

Standridge is one of five high school teachers across the state to receive the prestigious award, now in its 30th year of recognizing excellence in teaching, said Pam Powers, executive director of the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico. The winning teachers receive a $1,500 cash award and a $2,500 stipend to attend their dream professional development program.

This year, competition for the award was fierce. The difference between a Golden Apple award winner and just a really good teacher lay in their ability to construct a strong school community, Powers said.

That community-building is exactly how Standridge stood out.

"The parents, the students, the administration and the community around them were very involved and supportive of the work that Kit does at the school and also what she does for all those different groups," Powers said.

Technically, Standridge teaches intermediate and advanced Spanish classes at ATC in addition to serving as the school's English language development coordinator, providing administrative oversight of students working toward full academic English proficiency.

But she does more than teach.

Standridge coordinates the school's peer mentorship program, which pairs older students with younger ones to develop positive study habits, self-advocacy skills and connections at school.

The hope, Standridge said, is that students come away from the mentorship program knowing one thing: "There are people at school who know me and love me."

"I want kids to have a sense of belonging. I want them to feel like school is for them, like this is their place where they feel safe," she said.

She also oversees the school's seal of bilingualism program, which honors students who have attained proficiency in a language besides English. Standridge's goal, she said, is to affirm home languages other than English while encouraging native English speakers to pursue fluency in another language.

In addition to her academic and extracurricular roles, Standridge is what Morgan calls a "building leader." She's quick with constructive feedback and always willing to help solve problems, two traits that improve the school for teachers and students alike, Morgan said.

"Every building principal needs staff like that," he said.

For Standridge, the impulse for collaboration comes naturally.

"Every person has an infinite amount of value, and I really try to look for that," she said. "Any group that I'm in, I get motivated by what other people bring to the table."