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Peggy Beltrán – Elementary Teacher

Peggy Beltran in the classroom


A teacher with decades of experience, Peggy Beltrán joined the Dell City School in 2016 and taught for two years. She retired – but couldn't stay away, and rejoined the district in 2020. That year she was selected the district's elementary Teacher of the Year Below. are a profile of Ms. Beltrán from fall 2016, and a piece celebrating Ms. Beltrán and her fellow 2021 Teacher of the Year, Trever Czubinski.


From 2016...


For a number of new teachers at Dell City ISD, the Dell City School is their first job in education. But that's not so for Peggy Beltrán. Beltrán, who teaches Dell City second- and third-graders in all subject areas, has more than 25 years of teaching experience.


Beltrán joined the district in January 2016, coming from Horizon Middle School in El Paso, and last school year she taught social studies and science to students in kindergarten through fifth grades. Now, she teaches a combined classroom of second- and third-graders, with 11 students total.


After working in larger districts, Beltrán said that teaching at a small school, in a “tranquil” rural community, has been a delight. She said she's been touched by the eagerness and respectful attitude of her students – and by the sense of family that Dell City students of all ages seem to share.


“I love the kids – I love the way that they interact with each other,” Beltrán said. “I love the way that the high school kids treat the little ones, and the way the little ones look up to the big ones. It's a really good school to be at.”


Teaching two grade levels in a single classroom presents its challenges, Beltrán said. But with support from school Principal Jody Kotys, Beltrán is working to accelerate instruction for her second graders. They're studying alongside the third-graders, sometimes working on more basic forms of the same material.


“I work with them one-to-one until the light bulb goes off,” Beltrán said. “Sometimes it's slow, but they're meeting the challenge.”


Beltrán is a native El Pasoan, and last year she made a daily commute from El Paso to Dell City. She said the drive was “serene,” and an opportunity to mentally prepare and then unwind from the school day. But it wasn't cheap. She said she was thrilled to move to Dell City this year.


She was joined by her husband, Ezequiel. Mr. Beltrán is working maintenance for the district. He's an accomplished woodworker – he built all the Beltráns' furniture, and bedroom sets for their extended family. He's collaborating now with Dell City Ag teacher Drew Turner to assist student woodworking projects.


Earlier in her life, Beltrán trained as a registered nurse. But in 1990, she turned to teaching, after working as a nurse for about a year. The decision was driven in part by personal tragedy.


Beltrán's first husband served in the military. While the couple and their three young children were stationed in Germany, the family was involved in an accident with a drunk driver. Beltrán's husband, and her 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons, were killed.


Beltrán became a single mother. After her loss, it was painful to spend time in hospitals. And parenting was her priority – she needed a job with regular hours.


“I had a son that I was raising, and I would never see him – I was gone holidays,” she said. “I wanted to work with children. So I changed careers to teaching.”


She started as a pre-K teacher, and moved on to teach first- through fourth-grade students in Socorro and San Elizario. She married Ezequiel. She had moved to a job as a reading recovery teacher in Chaparral, N.M., when tragedy struck again – she lost her 18-year-old son.


Beltrán decided she wanted to stay close to home, and she applied for jobs at Clint ISD. One opening was for a middle-school teacher. Middle-school students can be a rowdy bunch, and Beltrán said she had never imagined herself working with the age group.


“But I got the job, and it was a blessing,” she said. “I was a sixth-grade ELR [English, language, reading] teacher for 15 years, and I loved it.”


Beltrán said she and her colleagues formed an “awesome team” at Horizon Middle School. Beltrán has a strong personality, and when a new administrator joined the school last year, Beltrán found that they clashed. Beltrán looked for a new opening – and found the opportunity in Dell City.


As a seasoned veteran, Beltrán can be a resource for the district's new teachers. At a recent meeting, staff were discussing non-verbal ways to maintain classroom discipline – and how facial expressions can communicate a lot to students. Benancio Benavidez, one of the district's first-year teachers, asked Beltrán to demonstrate.


“He told Ms. Kotys – 'We should get Ms. Beltrán to show us those faces, because she's good at it,” Beltrán laughed. “I said, 'I've had a lot of years of experience, and I've got a very easy-to-read face.' When I'm upset, you'll know it without my saying anything, and the kids pick that up very fast.”


Beltrán has a son who is a police officer living in Hawaii, and two daughters and a son living and working in San Antonio. And she's a grandmother to four and a great-grandmother to one. Eventually, she may retire and move to San Antonio – “to enjoy my grandchildren,” she said. But for now, she's excited to be in Dell City.


“God always has a plan for you,” she said, “and I think that my plan was coming here.”


From 2021...


Beltrán and Czubinski Are Dell City ISD Teachers of the Year


Congratulations to Trever Czubinski and Peggy Beltrán, Dell City ISD's Teachers of the Year for 2020-2021!


A committee of Dell City educators selected the two teachers, and Principal Carlos A. Contreras made the announcement Thursday, Feb. 18. Czubinski, Dell City's secondary English teacher, and Beltrán, the school's third- and fourth-grade teacher, will join other standout educators from El Paso and Hudspeth counties in the running for regional and state Teacher of the Year. Beltrán is a veteran educator, with 30 years of teaching experience. Czubinski is in his fourth year of teaching. Both plan to stay on at Dell City ISD.


Contreras praised the two teachers for their commitment to students, and for the passion and creativity they bring to their work.


“We are really blessed to have both of them,” he said.


Czubinski is the son of educators – his parents, Joe and Tesha, are previous Dell City Teachers of the Year. Their example was part of Trever's inspiration for becoming a teacher, but Contreras said Czubinski has “truly come into his own.” He's developed and grown confident in his own distinctive approach to the craft.


“He's hit his stride,” Contreras said. “He's really finding out what his strengths are and what some of his challengers are.”


Beltrán taught at Dell City in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, left for two years and returned this fall. Contreras said she “fit right in” upon her return, and that her experience and expertise are a boon to students, and to her fellow teachers.


“She's more than deserving,” Contreras said of Beltrán's selection as Teacher of the Year. “She's always striving to do what's best for the kids.”


Contreras said Beltrán plays a vital role in mentoring fellow Dell City elementary teachers who are new to the profession. Contreras said she's participated in extra professional development, to better be able to support her colleagues.


“She's really taken those teachers under her wing,” Contreras said.


Beltrán began teaching in 1991. She was nominated for Teacher of the Year at Horizon Middle School, in Clint, where she taught for 15 years. She said to receive the honor at this point in her career was gratifying – though it didn't really sink in until she shared the news with her children.


“They said, 'Oh, that's awesome, Mom!' and 'You deserve it, Mom!' and 'It was about time, Mom!,” Beltrán said. “That's when I started getting more excited.”


Beltrán said that returning to Dell City ISD has been “like heaven.” She retired from teaching in Texas in 2018, and went to teach in Anthony, New Mexico.


After her experience in Dell City, Beltrán said the larger New Mexico district wasn't a good fit. And retirement definitely didn't suit her.


“When you're at home, and you're not really active – I didn't feel useful,” she said. “I still felt that I had something to give. I still had that energy, and I still wanted it.”


Beltrán said that returning to Dell City ISD was “a very good decision.”


It's the students here that set the school apart, she said.


“The kids here – it's a different caliber,” she said. “These kids are respectful. They still want to learn. They're still moldable.”


Whether it's the small class size, or the close-knit nature of the community, Beltrán said that even students here who've had traumatic childhood experiences remain open, warm and ready to engage with their teachers and peers.


Dell City ISD is also set apart by the spirit of camaraderie and collaboration among its teachers, Beltrán said. Beltrán has had colleagues elsewhere who jealously guarded their techniques and resources. That's not the case at Dell City.


“None of us are so 'into ourselves' that we're not going to share,” she said. “Our teachers are open and willing to help each other.”


Beltrán said that team spirit pays off – in the quality of education students received. She said that in her years at Clint ISD, a core of teachers came to know one another's strengths and quirks, and learned to complement, support and inspire one another. She said something similar is developing among Dell City faculty.


And though she may be a veteran, Beltrán said the mentoring is “a two-way street.” Beltrán shares strategies and resources with younger teachers. But she said she also turns to them for support – especially when it comes to technology.


“I was just telling Ms. Sanchez, 'I feel as if you're mentoring me, especially when it comes to the computer stuff,'” Beltrán said. “I'm not the sort to say 'I know everything,' because I don't.”


And after three decades as a teacher, she still finds the profession challenging – and satisfying, especially when she can help students make an intellectual connection or breakthrough.


“It's the 'ah-hah!' moments, that – 'I didn't know that!',” Beltrán said. “That's always a thrill. When you can see the light in their eyes come on: That's the most rewarding part of teaching, at any grade level.”


Teachers are often at their best when they're drawing from their own strengths and interests, and Principal Contreras said Czubinski's success in the classroom exemplifies that. Czubinski is bringing his own gifts as a writer and artist to his work as a teacher. An example of that, Contreras said, are the “gameboards” Czubinski creates. Czubinski has invented and illustrated multiple board games – which he uses to teach vocabulary and other literary and language-arts content.


“That's one of his talents,” Contreras said. “That's his niche – I've told him he should market them. The kids will be playing, and they don't even know that they're learning. They're learning and having fun at the same time.”


The gameboards are elaborately designed and illustrated. Czubinski said the technique incorporates his longtime love of art – and also his experience with athletics and coaching. Czubinski was a high-school and college athlete, and, with his father, coaches Cougar sports. He said that competition has a way of focusing students' attention – and the gameboards tap into that.


“I'm always looking for more creative ways to get them to know the material,” he said, “and as soon as there's a point system, it makes them want to try a little harder. The point of course is to win the game, but every time they land on one of the question marks, I can ask them one of the questions we're focused on. ”


The approach has paid off – Czubinski has seen his students' vocabulary knowledge improve through the games.


Students are currently at work on book fair projects – three-dimensional displays illustrating their comprehension of what they're reading. It's another way Czubinski is integrating hands-on creativity with English learning.


Czubinski said it's an honor to be selected Teacher of the Year. His father received the recognition during Czubinski's first year in Dell City – and Czubinski said that when he joined his father at the Teachers of the Year celebration in El Paso, he knew “that was going to be [his] goal.”


“It is an honor,” he said, “and I'll try to represent Dell City as best I can.”


Statewide, test scores show that Texas students struggle with English and reading. Dell City scores have reflected that pattern. Czubinski said that changing that trend doesn't happen overnight.


“It's not a quick growth,” he said. “It's very, very slow. That's always been my battle, but it's what I want to do. And I enjoy it. I'm one of those nerds that can talk about grammar and English, and have fun doing it.”


Czubinski knows from his own experience as an English major, at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, that “one-on-one interaction is really key” when it comes to reading, writing and books. In large classes, students can avoid participating and talking about the material – Czubinski works hard to pull Dell City students into deeper thinking and engagement.


And he hopes to overcome the resistance – and communicate his own passion for reading to his students.


Though it's early in his career, Czubinski said it's already been quite a journey. A beginning teacher faces a steep learning curve, but Czubinski has honed his skills. Improving his lesson planning has been key. In his first year, it often took him five hours to plan for a single class. Now, he said, he can plan for all five of his classes in a few hours.


And he's learned to be adaptable, to improvise when things don't go as planned. The Covid pandemic – and having to teach some of his students remotely – has further brought that home. He notes that students, too, are having to adapt to unexpected events.


“What I have had to learn to do, and to learn to do quickly, is to be on my toes, and to adjust,” he said. “If you can't adjust, you won't survive here. And the kids too are having to learn that.”


Through the difficulties of the pandemic, and of being a new teacher, Czubinski said he hasn't doubted that “this is what [he] wants to be doing.”


Thank you, Ms. Beltrán and Mr. Czubinski, our Teachers of the Year, for your hard work in the classroom, and for everything you've done and continue to do for Dell City students!