Augusta University alumni Sonia Puerta-Quinn and Christy Presgrove and their mentor, Dr. Jana Sandarg, have remained good friends for years. Their matching charro rings and earrings – a traditional symbol of Salamanca, Spain– demonstrate their shared love of the Spanish language and culture. Deeper than that runs their love of teaching.
Though Presgrove graduated from Augusta University in 1995 and Puerta-Quinn in 2006, their professor is still their biggest cheerleader. This year, Sandarg encouraged them – hounded them, she joked – to submit their application for Teacher of the Year for the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP). She also wrote glowing recommendations for them.
They won. Puerta-Quinn was named 2019 Elementary School Level Teacher of the Year. Presgrove was named 2019 Secondary School Teacher of the Year.
“I was thrilled when I found out,” Presgrove said. “I didn’t think I would be chosen because even though I had been teaching (25 years), and I’ve taught Spanish levels one through four, this was my first year teaching AP Spanish. I didn’t think my resume was comparable with some of the other teachers out there.”
Sandarg said it’s a very competitive award at the national level and it’s been several years since a winner was chosen from Augusta. To have two winners is highly unusual, she said. Both women had already received the same award at the state level, and said it is rewarding to be chosen by the national organization.
“It’s nice to be recognized. It was just, I don’t want to say payback, but it’s a nice feeling,” said Puerta-Quinn, who teaches Spanish to second through sixth graders at Episcopal Day School. “All the effort that I have been putting in all these years, to keep going on teaching, to get the kids engaged, to get them to learn. I feel rewarded. It’s a nice reward that I was not really expecting.”
Puerta-Quinn, a native of Colombia, became a teacher following a career in computer programming. Presgrove knew in high school she wanted to teach Spanish and began pursuing it after graduation. She now teaches Spanish at Greenbrier High School. Both women were students of Sandarg’s, who retired in August. Sandarg spent her 30-year career at Augusta University building and strengthening the foreign language program, including developing the study abroad in Salamanca program.
Puerta-Quinn and Presgrove took the Salamanca course. Both women also earned their master’s degrees from the University of Salamanca – Puerta-Quinn by attending classes in Spain for two summers, and Presgrove by taking courses from Salamanca University professors in Atlanta. Each brings their experience abroad to their current students by teaching culture, cooking and art as well as language in their classrooms. Each year, as members of the Georgia Chapter of AATSP, they develop an immersion camp designed to allow participating students to experience parts of the culture that they don’t have time to cover in the classroom.
“We can’t take them for a weekend abroad, so we try to create, to turn that camp into another country during that time, so they have it as total immersion,” Presgrove said. “They’re supposed to be speaking Spanish the entire time. We give workshops on just, you know, hands on things that we don’t have much time to do in the classroom – dance, art, theater or cooking.”
When Sandarg brought the TUNA, a traditional Spanish music group, to Augusta University, Puerta-Quinn and Presgrove both brought them to their schools to share with their students and the student body.
Sandarg said their willingness to go above and beyond for their students is the very thing that makes them great teachers.
“Everybody, I’m sure, who goes for the prize at the national level is top notch, but these right here are the crème de la crème,” Sandarg said. “They really are dedicated to service. If you could see their resumes, you would see all the years of service, and these are not service things that get you a paycheck raise. These are service things that create foreign language excitement with their students and the community.”