‘Apple’ winner: To CHS by way of Romania and inner city LA
Romanian-born Ileana Del Valle, the math chair at Coronado High School, is a Crystal Apple Award winner this year.
It marks the fourth straight year that the school's PTA has successfully campaigned for a teacher there.
The annual award, organized by the El Paso County PTA, is bestowed on teachers in District 11 who are nominated by their schools - a process that must include the accumulation of testimonials and achievements - and then judged by outside educators. Four in all were selected this year, with two from the Westside. (The other, Lisa Schott of Howbert Elementary, was featured in last week's Westside Pioneer.)
According to Amy Seeman of the Coronado PTA, it was not hard finding people to give testimonials on Del Valle. “This year's nomination book went to the maximum of 56 pages, filled with letters in support of her teaching excellence.”
A sample comment, from the letter by Drew Hubl, 2005 Coronado graduate: “The 'warmup' problems she gave in the beginning of class enforced a studious environment. They made you review the topics covered the previous day, and they forced your brain into 'math mode' as soon as you walked in the classroom. I have yet to take a class with a better classroom environment than Mrs. Del Valle's.”
Del Valle has taught 18 years in District 11, with 15 of them at Coronado. In addition to being math chair (a position she took on this year), she teaches the high-level calculus classes.
She describes herself as “a pretty traditional teacher,” assigning homework daily and delivering “a lot of lectures.” It's not so much that she likes to talk; however, she said, “I have to tell the kids what the math is.”
She tries to be accessible, ready to answer any questions. A recent addition to her strategy, borrowed from another teacher, is giving students colored stickers when they do well. “I thought it was a little-kid thing and it would never be accepted by advanced kids, some of whom are geniuses,” Del Valle said. “But they like getting the stickers. They like that recognition.”
Del Valle has come a long way since 1983, when she was in the 10th grade and her family emigrated to Los Angeles from Romania. She had barely a year of English at that time, but recalls picking up the language and its nuances with the help of other kids in the apartment complex where her family lived. “They corrected me regularly,” said Del Valle, who now speaks English with no discernible accent.
She was able to start college just as she turned 17, and by 21 she was a teacher herself. Her first experience was not the most ideal for a young instructor. She was hired midway through the first semester at a Los Angeles inner-city school (Jefferson). The previous teacher “had left in tears,” she said.
Throughout that first year, she said it was evident that the students, for reasons of their own, were trying to see if they could run her out too. “They made it rough, but I liked them, anyway,” she said. So she persevered, and gradually the kids came around. “They could tell I cared and wouldn't give up on them.”
She stayed at Jefferson five years, moving to Colorado Springs in 1994 for safety reasons. Not because of the school; it was earthquakes. An especially bad one hit that year in Northridge. (By then, Del Valle had gotten married and was starting to raise a family - she now has seven children between ages 5 and 24.)
She and her husband decided the Springs looked like a nice place to live. Upon arriving, she found work as a math teacher at Coronado, staying there 11 years. She went to Wasson for three years, then jumped at the chance to return to Coronado four years ago to help boost its math offerings. Wasson was all right, but Coronado “is such a nice school,” so it was “like coming home,” she said.
She hopes to stay at Coronado until she retires, she added. She's even enrolled her fourth child as a freshman at the school this year through the District 11 “choice” option. And, she plans to have her three youngest kids (now elementary age) attend Coronado too.
Carla Albers of Coronado's PTA wrote a letter for Del Valle's nomination book. In it, “I noted how much our family has appreciated her as a teacher,” Albers said. “My daughter is a sophomore at School of Mines, pursuing a double electrical/mechanical engineering degree. She will tell you that one reason she is doing so well is because of the solid foundation she received in Mrs. Del Valle's classes (two years of calculus). My son, a junior, has her for calculus this year, had her last year as well, and also loves her as a teacher. As the kids say, she has a gift for making the complicated easy to understand. As we face a shortage in this country of kids able to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, it seemed important to recognize the work she has done in setting the stage for Coronado students to be successful in these areas.”
Westside Pioneer article