Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) Spanish teacher Christina Gauss, has been honored as Outstanding Teacher of the Year by The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP).
Gauss was notified of her selection in late May by AATSP Executive Director Emily Spinelli.
The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese promotes the study and teaching of the Spanish and Portuguese languages and their cultures, and encourages, supports and directs programs and research projects involving the exchange of pedagogical and scholarly information.
Each year, the AATSP selects a recipient for Outstanding Teacher of the Year at the elementary (grades K-8), secondary (grades 9-12), two-year college, and college or university level.
Gauss was nominated by two of her colleagues, and was then required to submit a personal statement on the value of learning the Spanish language and cultures as well as letters of recommendation from two colleagues, her supervisor and a former student. She also submitted a curriculum vitae and an electronic portfolio highlighting several student learning activities.
As Teacher of the Year at the secondary level, Gauss will travel to Chicago to attend the AATSP conference dubbed Creating a Pipeline from Classroom to Career in early July and will be presented with a plaque, a certificate, and a check for $500 during the Awards Banquet. Locally, she will be recognized by the RFH Board of Education at its scheduled June meeting.
Gauss has been a Spanish teacher at RFH for 12 years — from 2000-2004 and from 2009 to the present.
Among her achievements at RFH is her role in helping to establish and foster the relationship between RFH and its “sister” school, Isabel de Castilla Institute, in Avila, Spain.
Last summer, Gauss traveled to Spain for a week-long Intensive Summer Spanish Language and Culture program in Alcala de Henares, and then traveled to Avila to meet the school’s English teacher.
Seventeen students from Isabel de Castilla visited RFH this past February, and a visit to Spain is planned for RFH students this coming fall. The students from both schools have connected and collaborated on various projects by using Edmodo, an educational network, as well as by using Google Hangouts to speak with each other live from the classroom before their actual visits.
“These authentic communicative activities allowed the students to see the value of what we are studying, and how it connects to the world outside of our classroom walls,” Gauss said.
Another project close to Gauss’s heart is the student learning activity called La Crisis en Venezuela. Taking pride in the fact that her students “Think Global and Act Local,” Gauss and her advanced placement students examined the both the current and historical political, economic, and social situation in Venezuela.
Gauss’s students reached out to community member Milena Milano, who was born and raised in Venezuela and still has family members living there, and invited her to come to class and share her perspective.
“Milena enlightened all of my students who took part in the voluntary 9th period discussion, and inspired them to do more,” said Gauss. “Together we collected, sorted, and shipped eight large boxes of clothing to thirty Venezuelan families in need. It was a learning experience that helped to promote empathy as well as realization of our place in the world, and sure made for a very proud Spanish teacher.”
As a follow-up, Ms. Milano returned to the classroom with pictures and stories of the recipients of their donations, and students conducted a Facetime interview with her father and brother who reside in the outskirts of Caracas for a firsthand perspective on the current protests in Venezuela.
In 2015, Gauss received a National Education Association Teaching and Learning Grant for her proposal dubbed Cuba: One Year Later. She researched the changes in Cuba since President Obama’s Normalization Plan was announced at the end of 2014.
She traveled to Cuba with a Witness for Peace delegation in 2016 to build connections and gain firsthand knowledge of educational and social programming in Cuba.
Upon her return, she incorporated her experiences into her classroom activities, and assisted her students in taking the lead in their learning.
One class of Spanish 4 Honors students designed and implemented their version of the television show “The Amazing Race” based on their study of Cuban culture, and hosted it for another class section to play.
Student Julianna Meinz invited her mother Maria Meinz and Cuban-born grandmother Viictoria Sandrino into the classroom to share their stories and perspectives on Cuba as well.
At RFH, Gauss is the advisor to the National Spanish Honor Society and was founder and former advisor to the International Club. These clubs sponsor activities throughout the year to enrich the language and culture study in the classroom, as well as to raise funds for charitable organizations.
This past year they have held a Churros and Chocolate sale, a car wash, bake sales, and a Salsa Doble contest to benefit programs like Bridge of Books’ Spanish language book drive.
The Honor Society also fundraised for the Here to Help organization that travels to the Dominican Republic (most recently to repair and restore a medical clinic and a school) and the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Gauss has also chaperoned RFH-sponsored student service-learning trips to Guatemala in 2014 and Peru in 2015.
“I am so fortunate to be working alongside amazing colleagues in both the school at large and, more specifically, the World Language Department,” said Gauss. “We are all passionate about what we teach, and we collaborate to design learning activities that allow our students to see the value of what they are studying in the classroom. We strive to inspire and empower our students with the skills to become compassionate, competent, and productive global citizens.”
Gauss received her bachelor of arts degree in Spanish and International Relations from Bucknell University. She earned her Secondary Education Certification from Millersville University and her Master of Arts for Teachers of Spanish from Rutgers University.
Gauss resides in Rumson with her husband Ted and their children Dylan, Julia, and Natalie.
— Edited press release from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH)