Moreno Valley teacher earns nod as finalist for state teaching honor

By Ellen Miller Goins
Posted 10/24/19

On a quiet Friday afternoon in the drama class at Angel Fire's Moreno Valley High School, a group of boys clustered around a computer scanning images for inspiration to create the large puppet face for a character known as "Cancer" in the dramatic/comedic musical "Dani Girl."

You have exceeded your story limit for this 30-day period.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Moreno Valley teacher earns nod as finalist for state teaching honor

Posted

On a quiet Friday afternoon in the drama class at Angel Fire's Moreno Valley High School, a group of boys clustered around a computer scanning images for inspiration to create the large puppet face for a character known as "Cancer" in the dramatic/comedic musical "Dani Girl."

The room was calm but abuzz with activity, a characterization many would use to describe the woman at its helm, teacher Elizabeth "Beth" Tafoya, one of 16 New Mexico finalists for the 2020 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Across from the boys working on the puppet face, Meaghan Espie asked for help leading a bobbin in a hot-pink sewing machine. Espie, a senior, is designing and sewing the costume for Cancer, the character as portrayed by an actor and Cancer, the puppet.

"Usually with drama I do the set design but [Beth is] open to letting kids do whatever they want to try," Espie said. "Beth is really good at managing drama. That's why our theater department is so good. We outperform huge schools, schools with a much higher budget. I've been to state three times. We place every year and we won first place [in 2017] for 'The Glass Menagerie.'"

Grace Quintana, a sophomore, added, "[Beth] is the best teacher in this school. She's really understanding. She's really calm. She just has a way of teaching. She explains things in different ways if you don't understand."

MVHS Director Tammy Dunn echoed that sentiment in a telephone interview: "Beth teaches to what that child needs. She makes adjustments till she reaches them with whatever that content is. Her greatest strength is that she teaches everyone with dignity, helping them articulate and express their thoughts rather them telling them what to think."

Tafoya acknowledges part of that ability comes from being the mother of seven children, ages 5 to 20. "Even among my own children I can see how different each child is, see how each child learns to read, multiply, spell. ... Also, I'm not a high-strung person, so I'm pretty patient."

Since coming to teach theater at the school part time in 2004, Tafoya has added to her course offerings. In addition to drama, she has taught or is presently teaching English, art, American Sign Language and Senior Capstone (seniors are required to produce either a portfolio, demonstrating proficiency across a range of disciplines or a senior project -- tiny house, short-story collections, dance, glass blowing -- a range of projects as individual as the school's students).

Dunn believes Tafoya's gift as a teacher is not forced. "It's an inherent gift. She loves teaching. She loves students."

Sophomore Reece Reneger noted, "You can ask Beth any question and she'll answer. She's very easy to talk to. She always keeps everything under control. If we get off task, she'll steer us in the right direction without being too mean about it."

Tafoya took a less-direct route to the profession. Beginning in 1995, she attended the now-defunct College of Santa Fe, which became the Santa Fe University of Art and Design before closing in May 2018. "I studied theater and got a bachelor's in fine arts in costume and scene design."

She worked as a costume design assistant and designed sets in Houston then was an actor for a year with Cleveland Signstage Theatre. "That's where the sign language came in. Deaf actors and hearing actors perform together."

Her meeting with husband Rick Tafoya was a little like a rom-com. "We were best man and maid of honor at our best friends' [Angel Fire residents Cameron and Alan Benjamin] wedding. [In 1998] we got married and started having kids.

"I started teaching theater the year our fourth child, Marcy (now a sophomore), was born."

That same 2004-05 school year, Tafoya also assisted the high school English teacher. "That's when I started the road to licensure."

She pursued an alternative license for teaching theater then went on to gain secondary endorsements that include American Sign Language -- a certification that requited spending time at an intensive summer program at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Students who take ASL can fulfill their language requirement for graduation. Tafoya noted, "Part of my reason for advocating for that is, ASL is ideal for students who are already struggling [reading and writing] or are kinesthetic learners."

Nicole Arciniega, who takes American Sign Language with Tafoya, noted, "ASL's really easy to learn. I'm learning two songs right now in sign language. It's just muscle memory."

It would be foolish to conclude this energetic educator is done. "Now I'm doing my master's degree in curriculum and instruction with a focus on teaching English as a second language."

With two children in college and five still at home, Tafoya credits Rick with helping to hold it all together. In addition to his work as manager for the Village of Angel Fire, Rick and family are cattle ranchers on the Tayofa family's homestead. "My husband's really good at time management. Everyone has learned to cope and figure it out. Rick provides the daily life structure for all of us."

The family works together for each of their successes. In her Golden Apple questionnaire, Tayofa summarized her own drive this way: "If you're not failing, you're not trying. If you're not trying, you're not growing. If you're not growing, you're stagnating, and I never want to stagnate; therefore, I'm failing continually."

Comments


Private mode detected!

In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.