SDSU Imperial Valley alumnus wins Teacher of the Year award

Francisco De La Rosa, a sixth grade teacher for Heber Elementary School District, was recognized by the Imperial County Office of Education.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024
Francisco De La Rosa wearing a blue woven shirt takes a selfie outdoors in front of
Francisco De La Rosa is in the process of applying to the California Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year program, where only five teachers statewide are selected. (Photo courtesy: Francisco De La Rosa)

For Francisco De La Rosa, his journey as a sixth grade teacher has come full circle.

When De La Rosa graduated from SDSU Imperial Valley with a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies in 1998, he attributed his success to the support of his mentors and professors. Now, as a full-time teacher, he’s recognized as the Teacher of the Year by the Imperial County Office of Education.

“I saw my mentors and professors teach with so much care and compassion,” said De La Rosa. “With that same example, I go into my classroom and try to teach with so much devotion because I know every student has a different story and background.”

The announcement of the recognition came as a surprise, said De La Rosa, as his administrators and students welcomed him into the classroom with a bouquet of flowers sharing the news he won the award.

“I have felt very humbled and honored because I’ve received support from my colleagues at my school and other school districts across Imperial Valley as well,” said De La Rosa. 

De La Rosa was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, and later moved to Imperial County as a young kid. As Spanish was his first language, his teachers helped him adjust to the language barrier during his early years in school in the United States.

Before becoming a teacher at Heber Elementary School District (HESD), he taught at St. Mary’s School in El Centro for 16 years. Now at HESD, his personal experience as a first generation Mexican American student helped him understand his students who may also come from migrant families. 

“Pursuing my education has always been a key goal in my life,” said De La Rosa. “My parents would work long hours, but always emphasized the importance of education. So, I understand my students that come from migrant families may need support outside of the classroom.”

A few years ago, De La Rosa became the lead for HESD’s Migrant Speech and Debate competition, National History Day, and both the countywide Science Fair and Arts Festival. 

In partnership with the Imperial County Office of Education, the Migrant Speech and Debate program recruits students from 4th grade up to high school to compete in debates across Imperial County. There, the students strengthen their public speaking and writing skills, while also providing opportunities for growth and improvement.

This past academic year, his students from the Migrant Speech and Debate program traveled to Sacramento to compete in a state competition, where several of De La Rosa’s students won first place. 

“I’ve seen so much growth in our students over weeks and months,” said De La Rosa. “Some struggled to speak up because they didn’t feel comfortable speaking in English in front of the class. Now, they are winning competitions at the state level.”

With a strong growth mentality, De La Rosa is in the process of applying for the 2025 California Teacher of the Year program, where the Imperial County Office of Education nominates one local teacher to the California Department of Education. Only five teachers across the state are selected for the program.

“My administrators and mentors know my journey and are always encouraging me to push forward,” said De La Rosa. “As teachers, we need to understand our students and know that school is their second home. If I go into my classroom with enthusiasm and try to create a dynamic atmosphere, my students are engaged and ready to learn. It’s all about the passion we transmit to our students.

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