TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — For the past 29 years, hundreds of students have shuffled in and out of Cristobal Santa Cruz's classroom. His impact went beyond the classroom as Santa Cruz connected with students in an engaging way.
"When I'm teaching I try to get the child to buy in," Santa Cruz said. "The buy in can be, for example, 'I care about your future' and we'll stop the class and talk about it."
Because of his impact, Santa Cruz won the 2021 Yale Educator Award. Out of 305 nominees from over 38 states and 17 countries, 50 counselors and 21 counselors won the award. Santa Cruz said he was surprised that he won.
"I was shocked," He said. " I had no idea this was happening."
A former Pueblo High School student, Yakeleen Almazan, attends Yale University and nominated Santa Cruz for the award.
"It was gratifying that a student felt moved to nominate me," Santa Cruz said. "I knew that I had a good relationship with her but I didn't know the effect that I had, so it made me feel good."
Santa Cruz said while he is grateful for the award, it's a reflection of Pueblo High School as a whole.
"It really helps Pueblo," he said. "The fact that we have a student at Yale that has the writing skills to do this really says a lot about the school. I don't believe that I produced her, she's a product of the college prep program that we have here and other teachers that influenced her - it all comes together."
His teaching involves not only a strong lesson plan, but ways to connect with students.
“It can be with humor or I say because I’m from the neighborhood, I touch cultural buttons," he said.“I will talk to the kids in the class I will use Spanish and that has a cultural connection that English just doesn’t.”
One of his students, Celeste Lineiro, said she had trouble with advanced placement classes in the past, but Santa Cruz's class was a whole different experience.
"It brought a whole new experience on how I see AP classes and really, school in general as he makes learning more fun and engaging," Lineiro said.
For him and his classroom, he said life keeps going, period after period.
"How am I going to change this student, how am I going to change that student beyond the classroom," he said. "It's just the next period for me."
Santa Cruz's love of teaching shows no signs of stopping.
"I'm coming to the end of my career," he said. "I don't know how long I am going to teach but right now, I have a lot of energy."
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