Bailey’s Elementary Teacher Named 2017 Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year

News Release
May 23, 2017

Lorena Cervantes, a creative movement teacher at Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, has received the Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award for 2017. Bailey’s Elementary is a Fairfax County public school.

The annual award, sponsored by the Hispanic Youth Foundation of Northern Virginia and Marymount University, honors an exemplary Hispanic classroom teacher from one of the 12 school systems in Northern Virginia who strives to improve the lives of children and his or her community through education.

Cervantes, a native of Costa Rica, became involved in dance when she was six years old, and joined a traveling dance company. The audiences asked questions after the performances, and one question posed by a child changed the trajectory of her life. He asked if she would teach him how to dance. Cervantes says that until then, she had only thought about sharing dance through performance. After high school, Cervantes taught, danced, and directed at the School of Dance at Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica. When she was awarded a mini Fulbright scholarship to George Washington University, she was hesitant to go to a country where she did not know the language. After receiving a full scholarship to earn a master’s degree in dance in the U.S., she quickly learned to navigate, compensate, and succeed in order to complete her coursework. That experience shaped her perspective of what English language learners encounter, struggle with, and can accomplish, as she experienced firsthand how difficult it is to process a new language quickly.

During and after graduate school, she began working as a teaching artist in preschool and kindergarten for the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts program, incorporating arts integration and learning how dance could be used to teach core subjects.

Cervantes, who joined the staff at Bailey’s ten years ago, reinforces language acquisition with physical gestures, keeping students engaged, energized, and capable of retaining concepts. “It is quite an inspiring sight to witness a second grade class perform a dance about how Native Americans adapt to various regions, or a dance about lifecycles, or habitats,” she says. As the first teacher to add dance integration to the existing arts integration program at Bailey’s, Cervantes regularly invites parents to see what and how their children are learning. This also helps reinforce the importance of parental involvement in their child’s education. She also founded the first Elementary Dance Company for Fairfax County students, a free after-school program for students in grades 2-5 to learn dance technique and choreographed movement. Cervantes volunteers her time with the school’s Head Start program, Early Literacy Program, and teen group of Bailey’s alumni.

As a Bailey’s teacher, Cervantes works to build a positive culture and environment among her students, over 70 percent of whom are Hispanic, by sharing the importance and pride of being Latina. She says she wants her students “to feel as though they are an integral part of the United States while also celebrating their Hispanic heritage,” and she shows students “how a person of Hispanic heritage can richly contribute to society, education, and the arts.”

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For more information, contact Lorena Cervantes at lmracanelli@fcps.edu.