Ms. Maria Plata
Spanish Immersion/First Grade Teacher
Kyrene del Norte Elementary School – Kyrene School District
Love is a pretty powerful word, in whatever language you’re speaking.
For Maria Plata, a first grade Spanish-immersion teacher at Kyrene del Norte Elementary School in Tempe’s Kyrene School District, that word rolls off her tongue readily, emphatically, passionately, and with no holds barred when she describes her job.
“I absolutely love teaching,” she says. “I went into this profession because I wanted to change the world. I had this ideology that I could make an impact in the lives of children; expose them to different ideas, and in turn, help them become more accepting of each other’s differences.”
The love didn’t come easily at first, Plata admits.
“In my first year of teaching, I went home crying every day. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing; I feel sorry for these poor kids who have me as a teacher,’” she remembers.
Fortunately for Plata and her students, she regained her self-confidence, fell back in love with teaching and rediscovered the joy in every single day, every single lesson, and each and every student. That was eight years ago.
Today, as a Spanish-immersion teacher, Plata teaches all of the core subjects, math, reading and science, and adheres to the same rigorous state academic standards during her half-day class sessions. The only difference? Her classes are conducted entirely in Spanish. The progressive dual-language program is highly sought after by parents in the Kyrene School District who believe that starting their children out early in life learning a second language will benefit them as they transition into successful adulthood.
“Research has shown that learning a second language at an early age and becoming bilingual give children a more comprehensive thought process. They’re better at connecting with others, problem solving, and learning and understanding new words,” Plata says.
The students learn Spanish rapidly through a series of lessons that include songs, hands-on activities, videos, online research in Spanish, group interaction and literature. Plata fully immerses every child into the Spanish language from the minute they walk into the room. It’s a rigorous and fast-paced program, where even the morning greeting is a loud and boisterous, “Buenos días, Señora Plata!”
Plata knows first-hand that learning a new language, especially at such a young age, can be a challenge. As a native of Mexico, Plata and her family relocated to the United States when she was eight years old and she didn’t know any English. It was difficult for her at first, adjusting to a new country, new language, new food—everything was different and foreign to her.
“At the time, the schools didn’t have the resources like we do now to help me, but I was fortunate in that I had really great teachers who saw something special in me; took me under their wing and pushed me to do my best,” she recalls. “I want to do that for all of my students.”
She emphasizes that it’s natural for students to be uncomfortable at first with the Spanish-immersion class format, but as they’re learning a new language they’re also learning that different isn’t bad; it’s just different.
“Children are much more flexible and willing to try a variety of things than we are as adults,” Plata says. “We make it fun so that they don’t even realize they’re learning, comprehending and speaking in a second language; it becomes second nature to them. They’re like little sponges and learn so fast.”
Plata’s hope is that by exposing her young students to a new language, it will open their eyes to wide-ranging ideas and give them a world view, one that is more inclusive and accepting of others’ differences rather than critical of them. She believes in today’s youth and tells her students, “Sí, se puede—Yes, we can.” With that kind of attitude and enthusiasm, Plata is confident in her students’ future success.
You gotta love that.
Maria Plata was recently named a 2017 Arizona Teacher of the Ambassador for Excellence by the Arizona Educational Foundation.