Best in class: Red Rock Elementary teacher wins national, regional awards
Red Rock Elementary School Spanish teacher Mario Godoy Gonzalez gives the thumbs up to his first grade class.
Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald
Red Rock Elementary School Spanish teacher Mario Godoy Gonzalez makes a point to the first grade class.
Mario Godoy Gonzalez displays the kits used by the robotics team at Red Rock Elementary School.
Staff Writer | December 1, 2021 1:00 AM
ROYAL CITY — The first-graders were learning about “comunidad.”
Red Rock Elementary School Spanish teacher Mario Godoy Gonzalez explained it means community, which is a lot of people who live in close proximity to each other.
“They form a community. And guess what?” Godoy Gonzalez asked.
“What?” replied the first-graders, keenly interested.
“In a community people help each other,” Godoy Gonzalez said.
A Royal School District veteran, Godoy Gonzalez recently won not one, but two teaching awards. He was the runner-up for the national Toyota Family Teacher of the Year Award, and received $5,000 to spend on his program. He also was named the STEM Champion of the Year by the North Central Washington Tech Alliance.
Godoy Gonzalez teaches Spanish at the school, and coaches the Red Rock robotics team.
“How do you say ‘vegetables’ in Spanish?” Godoy Gonzalez asked.
“Verduras,” chorused the first grade.
Godoy Gonzalez nodded in satisfaction.
“You are not shy any more,” he said.
They were shy when school started, he told the students, hesitant to speak up, even when they knew the answer. But not any more.
Teaching involves giving kids the tools they need, and then letting them figure out the rest, he said.
“We let the kids do it,” he said. “This country fell behind because we were simplifying everything for the kids. We even put the answers to the problems in the back of the book. So some of the kids found the easy way out.”
The robotics team meets twice a week, and Godoy Gonzalez said he encourages the students to do as much as they can on their own.
“We present the situation – we don’t call it a problem, because ‘problem’ is too problematic – and we tell the kids, ‘The situation is this, and you need to come up with a solution.’ They work as teams. They struggle a little bit, but that’s the fun part. We tell them where to look for the answers. We don’t give them the answers,” he said.
Some kids drop out of the robotics program when they realize it’s going to be tougher than they thought, Godoy Gonzalez said. Others like the challenge.
“Those are the kids that have done wonderful things,” he said.
The goal, he said, is not only to teach the kids Spanish or the science of robotics, but give them some lessons in leadership skills and getting along with each other.
“The idea of teamwork that is so important in this new world we’re living in, the way they help each other solve problems is just key for what is needed for the skills for this century,” he said.
The robotics team coaches are recognized for the work they do, Godoy Gonzalez said.
“But we say, ‘It’s the kids.’ We just show them the way, but we didn’t do all the wonderful things that people think that we did. By themselves, the kids discover some skill they didn’t know about,” he said.
Godoy Gonzalez has been a teacher in the Royal School District since 1994, but he was a veteran of the classroom already.
“This is my 39th year,” he said. “I started in Chile in 1983. After 10 years in my country, I came as a visiting teacher over here, and I went to Grand Coulee.”
The Spanish teacher at Lake Roosevelt High School got the chance to spend six months teaching in Chile, which left an opening. Godoy Gonzalez was supposed to spend six months at LRHS, and ended up spending the entire school year.
His hosts in the Lake Roosevelt School District suggested he should apply for a permanent job in Washington.
“They helped me – better say, they pushed me to do it,” he said.
He had an offer from a school in Spokane, and one at Royal High School. He thought his family would fit better in a smaller town, he said, so he took the job in Royal. It turned out to be the right fit.
“The way people have treated me here, since the very beginning, I said, ‘Royal is the place.’ And I wasn’t wrong at all. It’s been a wonderful experience,” he said.
“When I started here I was the youngest member of the faculty,” he added. “Now I’m the senior member of the faculty in the entire district. I don’t know how it happened.”
He was a teacher at RHS for 23 years in what is now the English Language Learner program. He switched to teaching Spanish at Red Rock five years ago, he said.
He plans to spend part of the $5,000 award to fill a request from parents of some RSD students.
“They want (a class) to help refresh their Spanish,” he said.
In his conversations with Royal City residents, people have asked about reviving the community garden, he said. The third option is a family night highlighting the cultures of Latin America.
“We have parents that cook, and sing, and dance and they are all willing to share their skills with the community,” he said. “With those three activities, we’ll see what we can do.”