From ABCs to lifelong friends

Carol Iglesias at Royal Palm Elementary

Carol Iglesias (right) , Miami-Dade’s 1980 Teacher of the Year, inspired her former student Roxanna Concepcion to become a teacher. Today, they teach together at Royal Palm Elementary in Miami.

When Roxanna Concepción walks across the commencement stage at FIU Arena this month, she will be following in Carol Iglesias’ footsteps – again.

Concepción is a teacher at Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ (M-DCPS) Royal Palm Elementary, the same school she attended as a child and where she was taught by Iglesias. Concepción will be earning a master’s degree in reading education just like her former teacher, who she now shares a classroom with.

“She’s an angel. Carol has such a passion for what she does,” Concepción said. “When I was her student, our assignments and our field trips were always connected to the things we learned in our classroom. Carol created opportunities that facilitated learning and helped us succeed. She definitely had a big impact on my decision to become a teacher.”

Since opening its doors in 1972, FIU has produced quality educators. Some leave South Florida for opportunities in other parts of the state or the country. Most stay right here, becoming teachers and principals at M-DCPS, the nation’s fourth largest school district where 35 percent of teachers and 18 of its countywide Teachers of the Year are FIU alumni.

Iglesias earned county Teacher of the Year honors in 1980, just one year after graduating from FIU with the master’s degree in reading education.

“The key to good teaching is to have enough time to give to each child,” Iglesias said. “It’s difficult, yet teachers do an incredible job…they go far beyond what’s expected of them.”

And so did her students. Iglesias was inspired to seek out grant funding to teach her students about conflict resolution. This project called for substantially more than the typical classroom assignment. Studentsworked in teams to write their own conflict resolution-themed plays, designed scenery, act, direct and film themselves in action.

She also sought out funding to have computers in her classroom, Concepción recalls.

“Having a computer and Internet access was a luxury for my family,” Concepción said. “Thanks to Carol, we learned computer skills. She went above and beyond.”

What stuck out most for Concepción was a lesson Iglesias created based on “The Chocolate Touch.” After her fourth graders read the book, Concepción, like Iglesias, organizes a party where her students can eat or drink anything they want – if it has chocolate. Her students quickly learn how bad it can be to have too much of a good thing, Concepción said.

More than borrowing successful lessons, Iglesias and Concepción were partners in the classroom. Iglesias has even taught a pool of Concepción students in social studies allowing Concepción to focus on students who need more attention. Concepción says her students are in good hands.

“So many people just go to work,” Concepción said. “I’m passionate about what I do because I love making a difference in the life of a student. Through good times and bad, you help them stay on the right track. I’m there for the kids and it’s rewarding in an emotional way.”

After graduating, Concepción plans to continue providing these same unforgettable experiences to students at Royal Palm Elementary. Eventually, she said, she would like to join the faculty at FIU and help train future teachers.