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There’s a slogan, written in Spanish, that Sandra Ovalles tells her students all the time. You can even find it from time to time on her blackboard.
It’s “nada es imposible, todo es posible,” which means “nothing is impossible, everything is possible” in English.
Ovalles believes you can achieve whatever you set your mind to, and she tries to help her students carry that same attitude – all through the teaching of language.
Ovalles, who teaches Spanish at Lancaster High School, is this year’s Celebrate Great Teaching award winner among high school educators in the Lancaster County School District.
The accolade, given yearly to four people, is the district’s highest honor for teachers.
This was the fourth year Ovalles had been nominated for the honor. And like the previous three times, she didn’t think she would win.
Leading up to the announcement, all she thought about was what she could have done better during the selection committee’s interview.
“It was a surprise,” she said about winning. “It’s an honor and I am very humbled for it.”
Ovalles, who’s from the Dominican Republic, has been with the district almost 10 years. She taught for a year and a half at Indian Land High School before coming to Lancaster High in 2002.
Nowadays, she teaches Spanish as well as ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages).
At the start of each semester, her goal is to get students to realize that they’re capable of learning another language. Many students have built “walls” that are torn down once they get comfortable in the class and see that learning can be enjoyable.
“You can do this,” Ovalles regularly tells her students. “You just have to set your mind to it. Nothing is impossible.”
Ovalles believes you have to make learning fun. And she does that by engaging her students with songs, dances and other activities that can hold their attention.
Lancaster High 12th-grader Terrence Taylor said he’s likes having Ovalles for Spanish II.
“She lets us work in groups,” he said. “It’s pretty fun.”
Classmate Eden Christopher thinks similarly.
“She’s a fun teacher,” the 10th-grader said. “The way we say our sentences now, it seems a whole lot easier.”
Ovalles wants her students to not only learn another language, but to also pick up on the associated culture – whether Spanish or English.
Knowing a second language is more important than ever, she said.
“We are not living in a monolingual world,” Ovalles said. “Our students need to be prepared for that. Different jobs are going to require use of other languages.”
Sandy Barfield, the foreign language department chair at Lancaster High, said Ovalles cares deeply about her students and has the same level of commitment to her colleagues.
She’s gained a lot of confidence over the years, which has helped her become an even more effective teacher, Barfield said.
“You can tell that she never questions anything she does now,” Barfield said. “She doesn’t hesitate to try something new.”
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at email@example.com or at (803) 283-1152