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Boettcher Teacher Residency Spotlight

Resident Name: Michelle LaPaz
Mentor Name: Chrisie Gray
School Name/District: Kemper Elementary School, Cortez School District Re-1

Boettcher Teacher Residency teacher of record, Michelle La Paz, grew up in a village in South Central New Mexico named la Luz, which means “The Light.” La Luz is a very small community where everyone knows each other. Growing up, Michelle lived across the street from the local elementary school, which had perhaps thirteen students in each classroom. After completing elementary school, Michelle went to middle school, junior high and then high school in nearby Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Michelle’s Apache heritage brings a unique perspective to her teaching and her cohort. She has strong memories of her great aunt Mildred Cleghorn, a prisoner of war during the Indian Removal Act. Michelle’s great aunt was a toddler when her branch of the family was forced to move to Oklahoma. Mrs. Cleghorn graduated from Oklahoma State University and taught home economics and, like her great niece, kindergarten. Mildred Cleghorn went on to become Tribal Chairman and was a world-renowned doll maker. Her dolls are on display at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian. Although Michelle knew her aunt only in passing, she admired her and held her in deep respect—perhaps sowing the seeds for Michelle’s future aspirations.

Although Michelle graduated college with a degree in wildlife biology, she has always ended up working with children! She taught preschool, was a para-educator, and a mom to four kids of her own. She had a very memorable experience as a tutor at the Robert Denier Detention Center in Durango, Colorado, where the kids would test her, but always knew she wasn’t afraid of them. It was, in her words, “the best experience I ever had.” Her son is following in her footsteps and is pursuing a degree in sociology with an emphasis on adjudicated youth.

Michelle came to the Boettcher Teacher Residency through lots of prayers—she reports, “I see education in a different perspective. I now know more about how kids learn, and the program has opened my eyes. I have seen a lot of kids struggle and wanted to make that connection with them.” Knowing that she is supporting her community in addressing the teacher shortage is an added bonus.

Michelle has found the support of the Boettcher Teacher Residency field staff and her cohort to be invaluable. The cohort is such a “good group of people” and makes the process so much more meaningful. Michelle’s growth mindset shows through in all she does. “Every day is a learning moment. I am gaining everything I can.” Her advice to newbies: Keep your head up and keep going. Keep your eyes on the end goal. Tell yourself “I can keep going and I can do it.”

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