Bilingual school's staff honored
Photos by Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star
Davis Bilingual Elementary fourth-grader Anna Rowland draws an electrical-circuit diagram on an overhead projector as teacher Elizabeth Rodriguez-Quihuis goes over lessons with the rest of her class. Rodriguez-Quihuis was among 21 Davis honorees.
Bilingual school's staff honored
21 educators share in award from UA alums

 By Eric Swedlund

Finding an outstanding educator at Davis Bilingual Elementary Magnet School isn't much of a trick - just knock on any door.
The entire teaching staff is being given the Outstanding Educator Award from the University of Arizona College of Education Alumni Council. This is the first time the award is being given to each faculty member of a school, said Jim Driscoll of the Alumni Council.
The teachers were notified Monday of the award, which is intended to recognize innovative educators working in public, private, parochial or community-education programs.
All 21 teachers graduated from the UA, and without their dedication and teamwork, the school would not be able to fulfill its mission, Driscoll said. The teachers essentially build their own curriculum, translating district lesson plans from English to Spanish and shepherding students from a kindergarten immersion program through the full spectrum of subjects.
At the end of fifth grade, the school guarantees all students are bilingual and biliterate, said Principal Christopher Loya.
Six nominating forms and letters were turned in on behalf of the teachers at Davis, near Interstate 10 and St. Mary's Road.
Nominees must have completed 30 units from the UA or be UA graduates. Each recipient will receive an engraved plaque and be invited to take part in other Alumni Council events.
In his nomination letter, Loya wrote that the teachers "have contributed to the preservation of a highly innovative dual-language program."
"This is a very additive school. We add to the kids' repertoire by giving them a second language," he said. "Positive cross-cultural attitudes really come into play here."
About 80 percent of the students are English speakers whose parents enroll them at Davis to gain Spanish skills. The school of 260 students has a waiting list of about 40 for the incoming kindergarten class next year.
Tucson attorney Carl Piccarreta, who has one daughter at Davis and one who recently graduated, praised the teachers' passion and said there is no weak link among the staff members.
"I have never been exposed to a collective group of educators so dedicated and motivated to their mission as those I have encountered at Davis," Piccarreta wrote in nominating the faculty for the award. "At every turn, I have been nothing but impressed with their ability to maintain focus despite dealing with parents and children of differing socio-economic background and language skills."
Patricia Cruz, a school monitor who also is a Davis parent, said she's grateful for the future benefits her daughter would gain by being able to speak two languages.
"I'm very grateful and impressed. I have my daughter here, and they've really worked hard with her," she said. "I'm just amazed at some of the things the teachers do for the kids."
Fourth-grade teacher Elizabeth Rodriguez-Quihuis instructs her children 70 percent in Spanish and 30 percent in English.
"It's a wonderful experience," Rodriguez-Quihuis said. "I love Davis, and I love the program here. There should be other programs like Davis."
An afternoon science lesson about electrical circuits is delivered mostly in English, with Spanish definitions added, she said. Many of the district's instructional materials are only in English, so teachers translate much of it for the pupils.
After leaving Davis, many of the students miss the bilingual education, but their foundation prepares them well for future education, Rodriguez-Quihuis said.
"Children are like little sponges," she said. "As they move on, they'll be bilingual and biliterate, and they'll have tons of opportunities. I know myself as a bilingual person, I have more opportunities."
Brisa Bergeron, a 10-year-old in Rodriguez-Quihuis' class, said she is of Mexican descent and thinks it's "really cool" to have learned Spanish. She's looking forward to middle and high school, where she can help new students who know only Spanish.
"It's nice to know they get awards for being good teachers," she said.
In Micaela Campos' second-grade classroom, a lesson on rain forests lets the students write about all the things they'd see in a selva tropical - arboles (trees), monos (monkeys), tarántulas and mariposas (butterflies).
Watching students gain another language during the course of their schoolwork brings a great sense of accomplishment, Campos said.
"Our main goal here is the success of the children," she said. Former students are "very thankful we gave them the opportunity to be bilingual."
Students are learning the culture surrounding the Spanish language as well. For example, 7-year-old Bianca Bryant and 8-year-old Caitlyn Hendricks-Cos-tello have added violin lessons to their schooling, a key instrument in mariachi ensembles such as the school's group, Aguilitas de Davis.
"I like her because she helps us learn more," Bianca said of Campos. "It's cool to learn another language."
Caitlyn is looking forward to being able to go to a different country and speak to other people.
Since it is a magnet school whose students mostly speak English as a first language, Davis doesn't fall under the restrictions of Proposition 203, passed by Arizona voters in 2000. The proposition ended traditional bilingual education in favor of immersion.
Counselor Teresa Toro said the teachers are always ready to learn, always sharpening their skills and always being trained.
"We're very nurturing," she said. "We look at a student as a whole person, not just a computer. We look at a student as a person with a spirit, a heart and a mind. We genuinely do care about the full growth of a child in mind, body and spirit, and they know that we care."
● Contact reporter Eric Swedlund at 573-4115 or at