Teacher Feature: Leonora Baltazar - Fiesta Bowl | Fiesta Bowl

Teacher Feature: Leonora Baltazar

Oct 17, 2017

School: Longview Elementary

District: Osborn School District

Grade: Kindergarten-Third Special Education Self-Contained Class

This past August, Leonora Baltazar implemented a new reading intervention program in her special education classroom at Longview Elementary, something she never thought was possible.

“As teachers, we often have big ideas of how we can do more and teach students better,” Baltazar explained. “Sometimes we don’t have the materials we need in all school districts just because of how tight the budget is. Fiesta Bowl Charities made this new program possible.”

Baltazar was a beneficiary of the Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers program which granted $5,000 apiece to teachers throughout the state of Arizona. She was a recipient during the program’s first year, which has now had three years of existence.

“Wishes for Teachers is a wonderful blessing to all our educators, I think every state should have a program like this.” Baltazar said. “Many times we don’t have the materials we need to help students succeed. This program is heaven-sent.”

Prior to applying for a Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers grant, Baltazar was teaching a special education, self-contained class of students using materials that you would find in a normal classroom.

“The problem was that we were having to modify all these activities because these are students with special needs,” Baltazar explained. “I realized that we needed our own set of intervention curriculum that would meet the needs of our special education students.”

The answer was a program called SPIRE – Specialized Programs Individualizing Reading Excellence – a research-based intervention program that is mostly used in classrooms in the eastern part of the country.

“Previously, I taught in Maryland and we used it there,” Baltazar said. “Once I moved out to Arizona, I knew we needed to implement it but I didn’t think we could ever finance it.”

SPIRE is a research-proven, systematic reading intervention program that incorporates multi-sensory learning using a 10-step, explicit, teacher-led instruction plan to make the lessons very clear and interactive for the students. Baltazar believes SPIRE is especially good for the lowest performing students because the skills the student lacks are targeted during reading intervention.

“We have only had the program for the last two months but I have already seen significant growth,” Baltazar said. “One first-grade student is now performing at a third-grade level which I think is a testament to what these new materials can do.”

Baltazar’s wish was originally expected to impact 100 students at Longview, however, the other special education teachers in the school saw the impact these new materials were having and started using them in their own classrooms.

“Now our principal is encouraging all the teachers here to apply,” Baltazar laughed.

As a wish recipient, Baltazar joined the other winning teachers on the field at the 2016 Cactus Bowl (now Cheez-It Bowl) to be recognized and celebrated for the work they do, impacting children’s lives each day.

“To be at a big bowl game and to get to interact with all the other educators was such a rare experience,” Baltazar said. “I am very grateful.”