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Idaho's Teacher of the Year immerses his students in language, learning and culture

Jorge Pulleiro is a Spanish teacher at Wood River Middle School in Hailey.
Credit: Idaho Dept. of Education
Jorge Pulleiro, a Spanish teacher at Wood River Middle School in Hailey, has been named Idaho's 2021 Teacher of the Year.

HAILEY, Idaho — A Spanish teacher at Wood River Middle School in Hailey has been tabbed as Idaho's 2021 Teacher of the Year.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra surprised Jorge Pulleiro with the award Tuesday morning.

"For Jorge and his students, learning a language goes far beyond classroom conversations and learning how to conjugate verbs," Ybarra said. "His work and philosophy exemplify the concept of Dual Immersion: English speakers absorb Spanish language and culture, and English language learners help and learn from their peers.

"His success is illustrated in his students' engagement and high test scores, professional development for his fellow teachers, and cultural programs, such as Latin dance classes, that inspire great community involvement and support. His passion for learning is contagious."

Shortly after joining the school's Dual Immersion Spanish Language Arts program in 2012, Pulleiro began creating an exchange program in which eighth graders spend three weeks in Madrid each March, living with Spanish families to be immersed in the language and culture. Students from Madrid have a parallel experience, living and learning in the Wood River Valley.

Credit: Idaho Dept. of Education
Jorge Pulleiro celebrates being named the Idaho Teacher of the Year with his wife and daughter as State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra looks on.

"As we continue to live in an increasingly globalized world, cross-cultural competence has become an essential skill for succeeding in the global marketplace," Pulleiro said in his Teacher of the Year application. "This immersion trip is a great way for students to expand their horizons and can open up a world of personal and professional opportunities. … It has been a huge success from the beginning."

Wood River Middle School Principal Fritz Peters praised Pulleiro for expanding the experiences of language learners.

"His creativity, engaging lessons and overall teaching abilities are spectacular," Peters said. "His students overwhelmingly leave his eighth grade classes with advanced and high intermediate scores in each domain." 

Peters noted that Latino students in the Dual Immersion program consistently score higher than those not participating in the program.

"Our ELL population is very high in Blaine County, and our successes are mostly due to this DI program," Peters said.

Pulleiro grew up in Argentina and began teaching English in that country when he was 19. He later taught Spanish and Italian at the LDS Missionary Training Center at Brigham Young University. He served six years in the U.S. Army, then returned to teaching through the Troops to Teachers program. He taught Spanish and student leadership at Grant Union High School in Oregon before joining Wood River Middle School eight years ago.

Pulleiro holds a bachelor's degree in Spanish Translation and Interpretation from Brigham Young University and two master's degrees – in Educational Leadership from Boise State University and in Teacher Education from Eastern Oregon University.

He takes over the Idaho Teacher of the Year title from 2020 honoree Stacie Lawler, a Spirit Lake health and physical education teacher. Lawler attended the announcement to congratulate Pulleiro.

Pulleiro said his message to fellow educators will focus on the importance of love and compassion in getting through to students.

"It is all about relationships," he said in his application. "Drop any lesson plans and be there for those kiddos. Be there for them when sadness and tragedy come upon them. Believe in them and make sure they know you do. Laugh and cry with them. Let those students know that you too are human with problems and feelings."

Pulleiro was selected by a blue ribbon panel from among 10 finalists and more than 170 nominees. He will be a spokesman and representative for Idaho educators and serve as the state's nominee for National Teacher of the Year.