Focusing on the Social Emotional Benefits

Deming teacher awarded for work in classroom, community


Magali Gomez, Ruben S. Torres Elementary School 5th grade teacher was “bamboozled” when her name was called during a Dec. 12 assembly at the Deming school.

She was expecting to cheer on her students as they received accolades for improved attendance rates. Instead, she was the one being celebrated as Dr. Jane Foley, Milken Educator Awards senior vice president, New Mexico Lieutenant Governor Howie Morales and Dr. Arsenio Romero, New Mexico secretary of public education, surprised Gomez with the 2023 Milken Educator Award. 

The Award comes with a $25,000 cash prize that recipients can use however they choose, as well as lifelong membership to the Milken Educator Network to collaborate with fellow recipients and broaden their impact on K-12 education. 

“Our school principal notified us that the secretary of education was coming to the school, and we were having an assembly to boost student morale,” she said. “It was very exciting as the assembly continued, people were being introduced, and Dr. Foley was talking about the Milken Award. ‘This is so cool,’ I was thinking. And they announced my name. When I heard my name, it was on overwhelming honor, and

I couldn’t help but reflect on the fellow teachers who are part of the whole team.”

Gomez said they explained the award is not given by a nomination process rather they do research in the community, see what’s happening and target educators. And it is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are sought out while early to mid-career for what they have achieved – and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities afforded by the award.  

“It was a complete surprise for the entire school,” she said.

Recognizing educators has a noble effect in an educational community, Gomez said. It has widespread social emotional benefits. With a social work background, she was a youth therapist in Silver City, before she turned to teaching.

“I think it’s a very powerful combination,” she said. “I wish more social work-related development was developed for teachers developing a safe inclusive social emotional space.”

Known as an innovative educator who drives student-led learning, Gomez embraces methodologies such as empowering students to use data-trackers to chart their own growth; incorporating color-coded strategies for teaching math; teaching communications skills through a hands-on journalism project that encourages students to use data-driven journalism techniques to inform their writing; and weaving project-based learning throughout her curriculum to foster student cooperation and spark creativity.

“Our society works on tangible results, so my goal was to help them understand the data,” she said. “When students see their own data, they can tailor their learning style and this really has a positive impact on students.”

Fifth grade students have valuable skills, she said. They give you perspective as to how the mind works understanding human identity and honoring their culture. Gomez teaches by encouraging advocacy and self-advocacy, in particular advocating for diverse experiences.

“Students feel empowered to be part of the learning process,” she said. “I learn more from my students than I do teaching. When they give me my feedback I am learning so much more. I teach because I learn.”

An example of the type of innovative projects Gomez takes the lead on is the current one to help connect the students connect with their own agricultural roots. Incorporating reading a novel, “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Munoz, the students are encouraged to ask questions.

“The novel is separated in produce chapters,” she said. “The students answer questions like ‘how is this important?’ making connections. And to add to the rich experience, we are organizing field trips.”

The students went to a farm Columbus, Carzalia Valley Produce, and were able to see cotton growing, pistachios, they weighed onions, and saw professionals, engineers and scientists, at work there too.

“It’s a very beautiful collaborative environment here (at the school),” she said. “We make decisions together and we all add to the ideas.”

Gomez has worked at the school for five years now. She said her own daughter’s success is a huge motivator. She thinks about how she would like her daughter to experience 5th grade.

“My ideas or the way I make decisions about the learning experiences is a combination of experience and the things that were most memorable for me,” she said. “It’s a beautiful combination of different cultures. All of those things help us come up with ideas, culturally competent experiences for the students.”

One thing taken into consideration for the Milkin Award is community beyond the school setting.  Gomez’s leadership extends beyond her classroom, into the school and greater community. She serves as a court-appointed advocate for foster children; an honorary board member of Playsharity, a hands-on children's museum; and an adjunct professor in social work at Western New Mexico University. She can be regularly found helping non-native English speakers with taxes or benefit applications, caring for the homeless and helping migrant families adjust to their new lives in Deming. 

“Where do I find the time?” she said. “I like to think I operate with a proactive mentality. I don’t focus on the challenge; I focus on the solutions. It makes it more enjoyable. I spend little time redesigning the wheel.”

On considering the ways she will be using the award money; she knows part of it will be in making unforgettable memories with her daughter. Maybe they will take a trip, “an experiential treat.”

She said her daughter not only is inspirational motivation but also the best helper and is glad to help with teacher duties like lamination; arts and crafts creation; and offering new perspectives.

Gomez said she would tell teachers who feel discouraged or unnoticed, its okay to feel overwhelmed.  

“Celebrate the little victories and to take a moment to recognize your incredible strength and the positive influence you have in your community.”