The school year is nearing its end, but there are still many outstanding educators that deserve recognition. This week's Head of the Class encourages her students to be their best selves, while fostering an appreciation for the big world beyond the door to her classroom.

Positive energy radiates from the classroom of Ernestina Liranzo at Government Hill Elementary. It sits right next to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in North Anchorage and provides a two-way Spanish immersion program along with its structured neighborhood program.

"Half of the day is in Spanish and what I actually teach is writing, reading, social studies and science," Liranzo said. "And then my partner teaches writing, reading, and math."

Liranzo teaches fifth grade and is celebrating 20 years of being an educator. She's been at Government Hill since 1994, originally working as a secretary before becoming a teacher in 1999.

"My dream was to actually teach and that has always been my passion," Liranzo said. "I think that if I can add a little bit to what kids learn and life experiences, then I'm doing my job as a teacher."

Liranzo grew up in the Dominican Republic and says she can relate to the diverse group of students she works with, many of whom come from military homes.

"Just like so many of them, arrived in the United States without speaking a word of English, thrown into a high school in ninth grade and that was 40 somewhat years ago," she said.

Liranzo offers a world-class experience to students that are as eager to learn as she is to teach.

"I'm very proud of what I do with the kids because I've been through certain things in life that they know about and I've shared with them and gives them that other perspective that is not only the little house or cocoon, it's more like, you know, go out there," she said. "Look at what is happening out in the world and be part of the solution not part of the problem."

Teaching at Government Hill provides Liranzo an opportunity to share her first language. She says getting a worldly perspective is one thing, but the Spanish immersion program truly elevates a students learning experience.

"Research has shown that kids who actually study in two different languages, they actually superpass on standardized tests by the time they get into 12th grade," she said. "It's a lot of connections. The brain is working twice — twice as hard and twice as much."

Liranzo's students will leave fifth grade with a better understanding of what's happening beyond their playground, but she says she also wants her students to better understand themselves.

"Just know that they can be different and it's okay to be different in life," she said. "You don't have to be all the same. It's okay to be different and be proud of who they are."

Celebrating culture, diversity and hard work, Ernestina Liranzo is Head of the Class.

Know an educator who deserves recognition? Nominate them for KTVA's Head of the Class.

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