Sylvia Padilla, an alumna of Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), was among 10 educators from across the country honored recently by the White House and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics for focusing on improving student outcomes and closing the academic achievement gap for their students—most of whom are Hispanic and English language learners.
The 10 educators were recognized at a special White House event for their time and efforts in inspiring students to excel and for promoting the teaching profession by setting a strong example in the classroom.
“America’s future is inseparable from the Hispanic community’s future – and by strengthening the academic success of Latino students, we strengthen our nation’s long-term economic prosperity,” said U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “These leaders have shown an absolute dedication to helping their students succeed and are examples of the profound impact that educators can have not only in their classrooms, but in their communities.”
Padilla, a bilingual teacher for the past 20 years, teaches fourth grade in the two-way bilingual immersion program at Patrick Henry School (kindergarten through eighth grade) in the Long Beach Unified School District. In fact, her entire career has been spent at Patrick Henry.
“To be recognized for doing what I love to do, teach and advocate for dual language education is an amazing honor,” Padilla said. “When I met all the educators who are making a difference at the national level, I am grateful that there are great individuals who care about Latino students as much as I do. At the national level there are serious challenges that are being addressed (for example, dropout rates, lack of Latino teachers, wide achievement gap and the needs of English learners).
“Receiving this distinction is also difficult because I do not deserve all the credit. I work with an amazing group of teachers who inspire me and never give up,” she continued. “We plan together, work together, cry together, and help each other; therefore, I dedicate this award to my Henry Family and our former principal Claire Alvarez, who with her leadership challenged us to keep improving our instruction.”
And Padilla’s work has not gone unnoticed. She has been named Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year and California Association of Bilingual Education Teacher of the Year for collaborating at the school, district and state levels to improve instruction, implementation and assessment of state standards in English and Spanish.
At CSULB, Padilla earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in 1990, her teaching credential in 1992 and went on to garner a master’s degree in education—reading and language arts in 2007.
At the White House event, officials noted that Hispanics will continue to drive the growth of America’s labor force in the coming decades, accounting for 60 percent of the nation’s population growth between 2005 and 2050. In fact, already approximately one of every four students in K-12 public education is Hispanic.
However, while Hispanic students are both the largest and fastest-growing minority group in public education, they also have the lowest education attainment levels of any group in the country.
White House officials said if the United States is going to have the strongest, most competitive work force and lead the 21st century economy, and if it is going to meet the President’s goal of having the highest percentage of high school graduates in the world by 2020, then there has to be improvement in the educational outcomes of Hispanics.
To meet this challenge, the administration is working in partnership with communities across the country. The President’s Advisory Commission is critical to the effort and is working to help strengthen the educational pipeline to ensure all Latino students graduate from high school prepared for college and their careers—as well as have the resources they need to access and complete some form of postsecondary education.
In addition to being recognized at the White House event, Padilla and her fellow honorees were given an opportunity to share their best practices, models, and teaching strategies for effectively engaging and educating students, in particular, Hispanic students.
The White House Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative to honor ordinary Americans doing great work in their communities. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.