2001 Teacher of the Year Award: Bertha Zapata

The National Right to Read Foundation is pleased to announce that the 2001 recipient of its Patrick Groff Teacher of the Year Award is Bertha Zapata, reading teacher in Broward Elementary School in Tampa, Florida. On January 22, 2001, she was one of 17 participants in President Bush’s Reading Round Table held at the White House on the Monday following Inauguration Day.

In February, Mrs. Zapata was asked to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The topic was “Flexibility, Accountability, and Quality Education.”

Bertha began her teaching career in 1968 in El Paso, Texas. After her marriage she traveled extensively around the world, teaching in many Department of Defense Schools, including four years in Germany. She stayed home to raise her three children and then rejoined the teaching profession in 1982,

Since moving to Florida in 1988, Bertha has been teaching in Tampa at Broward Elementary School. During this time she taught first, fifth, and sixth grades. Currently, she is the ESOL teacher at Broward. She has been successfully teaching reading for the last 12 years using a systematic, multisensory phonics approach which integrates literature and written language. She has taught many bilingual students whose first language was not English and as well as many special needs students and gifted students. Since 1995, Bertha has trained regular reading and special education teachers in scientific research based reading instruction.

Her success as a reading teacher was noted in 1999 when she was honored at the Ninth Annual All Star Education Gala at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center where she was presented with the Excellence, Dedication and Devotion in Education Award. Bertha is a Spalding Certified Teacher Instructor. She received the Creativity Award for having integrated the Spalding Method in every language arts program at Broward Elementary School. Students at Broward spell two years above grade level and out scored the district and state on the Florida Writes examination.

A comment from one of the teachers she trained summarized the class consensus:

“As far as the instructor, you cannot improve on ‘perfect’. Mrs. Spalding has thought of everything, making her program clear and concise. I feel very fortunate to have been able to have such a program available to me, and look forward to helping others.”

The combination of a clear understanding of the scientifically based principles of reading instruction, which are the foundation of the Spalding program, and a genuine love for and interest in her students has enabled Bertha to be able to teach them all that priceless skill, the ability to read whatever they choose, no matter how disadvantaged their background.

Congratulations, Bertha. We know that you will continue to help transform America by decreasing the flow of students graduating without ever having been taught to read.

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