SUNY New Paltz alumna Elsa Batista ’00 (Spanish) ’03g (Multicultural Education) was recently named Newington’s Teacher of the Year for her ability to inspire student learning as well as her commitment, enthusiasm and deep compassion for her school community in Connecticut.
“I am grateful to be a part of and represent such an amazing district that puts students first,” Batista said.
As a World Language Teacher at Martin Kellogg Middle School (MKMS), Batista’s classroom is a celebration of diversity – imaginative and colorful – inspired by her early life in the Dominican Republic and strong family heritage.
“I arrived in the United States at 6 years old,” she said. “My mother knew that this move would provide more academic and professional opportunities for me. I am who I am today because of her.”
Motivated by her mother’s dedication and hard work, Batista excelled in school while living in the Bronx and went on to attend college at SUNY New Paltz. She found a caring community as an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) student and came to understand how varied support systems are necessary for success, cultivating the sense of compassion she now brings to her own students and school district.
“I really love how EOP students receive both the emotional and academic support needed to succeed,” she said. “I will be forever grateful for the opportunities and skills I was provided as an EOP student many years ago. The staff makes students feel like they are home, and at times, that is all they need to feel to bring out their full potential.”
As a World Language Educator for the past 15 years and advisor for different after-school clubs and projects, Batista applies the skills she learned as an EOP student at New Paltz with her students, colleagues, and parents on a daily basis. In addition to sharing her personal experiences with her students, she often talks about how she was nurtured by her mentor and advisor, Director of EOP Antonio Bonilla ’87 (Spanish) ’05g (Professional Studies).
“Tony Bonilla made it his mission not to give up on me even on the days that I was ready to give up on myself,” she said. “Because of that experience, I remind my students to find an adult that can show them the resources they have available to succeed.”
Batista is one of a few Latina teachers in her district, and she approaches her work with a mission of exploring the merits of diversity, showcasing the varied life and cultural experiences students carry with them from home into the classroom. Throughout her Spanish curriculum, she includes lessons where students talk about their own traditions, like how to prepare foods or family meals, that are carried down from generation to generation.
For Batista, this sense of belonging needs to go beyond the classroom experience. She organized a Staircase to Success Project in 2019 featuring inspirational messages for students. More recently, she facilitated the creation of MKMS’ Corner Cub Care Closet, where students can pick up a change of clothes, a toothbrush, deodorant, shoes, and other essentials if they need them.
This project hits close to home for Batista because she didn’t grow up with many resources. She has plans to coordinate with a local homeless or women’s shelter in the future so the school can donate unused items from the closet. When asked what important topics and challenges in education today need the most attention, Batista took the opportunity to talk about inclusion.
“Equity and inclusion training for our teachers of any marginalized groups, such as those in the Latino and African American communities, is extremely important right now,” said Batista. “If we provide the appropriate resources and support, students from these communities will achieve academic confidence and success in our classrooms.”
Batista has been teaching Spanish at MKMS for seven years and also taught at Newington’s former St. Mary School. Prior to her arrival in Connecticut, she was a teacher in the Bronx, New York.