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Carina Raetz has the unique privilege of meeting students who may not communicate like their peers. As an English as a Second Language Teacher (ESL) at Academy International Elementary School (AIES), Raetz teaches students how to speak, read, write, and listen in English.

“Currently there are 26 different languages identified as our students’ first language,” she explained.

Raetz is the first to admit she can’t speak in all 26 languages, but instead uses strategies to connect with students and teach welcoming words in a few key languages.

“My teaching really entails using visuals, lots of action, using my hands and being very expressive,” she said.

Her strategies have proven to be successful. This school year marks her 28th as educator. In that time, Raetz’s long list of achievements include being named a finalist for Colorado’s Teacher of the Year in 2017, participating on the Colorado Commissioner Teacher Cabinet between 2020 and 2022 and presenting a student’s idea to conservation expert and author, Dr. Jane Goodall in 2009.

Those career highs fall second to a program in which she takes the most pride. While teaching at Carver Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Raetz started “Courageous Carver Communicators.” The program allowed parents and their students to learn English together.

“We’d learn the language together, go on field trips to practice. It was an amazing process to watch,” she said.

Raetz found that students learning English alongside their parents thrived. Their reading scores soared, and the parents had newfound confidence to interact outside of their community.

“I had a parent start volunteering at the school because she could speak some English. Another was able to speak through an entire job interview and got the job,” Raetz said.

Educating and Inspiring Students to Thrive

Now, Raetz success comes in the form of watching students leave her program. She said, “Last year, we had about half our students go to monitor status or exit entirely last year.”

Raetz, hesitant to brag, admitted the program has fewer students since she started AIES, and more students back in the classroom succeeding in their courses and speaking English.

“I’m very pleased we were able to make those students successful,” Raetz explained.

When asked about what makes her students thrive, Raetz doesn’t point to one type of curriculum, or an overall strategy. Instead, she builds relationships with her students, so they trust her when learning to speak.

“Sometimes these students feel isolated, left out, or different because they can’t communicate like everyone else,” Raetz explained. “I try to break down those walls by letting them know we’re all different, we’re all special, we all have something to offer and we’re better because of it.”

Why Education?

Raetz first introduction to ESL Instruction came by happenstance. She became a Special Education Teacher in 1996 and later earned her master’s degree in the subject from California State University.

While working with students, she found some were misplaced in a Special Education program when instead, they needed language services.

“I became really passionate about getting my certificate and making sure these students were getting the right services,” she explained.

Going on nearly three decades as an educator, Raetz credits her grandmother, an elementary school teacher who taught for decades at St. John’s Elementary School in Denver.

“She used to talk to me about her students, what they were learning and how she taught them,” she said. “Looking back now, she was giving me strategies.”

Coming to ASD20

After a few years in California, Raetz was ready to come back home to Colorado. Her first job back in the Centennial State landed her at the Ellicott School District working first as high school special education teacher and eventually a dean at the elementary school.

In 2006, Raetz had her son Rowan and took a job closer to home as an ESL Teacher at Carver Elementary School, but as her son grew older, she wanted to be assured they’d have the same schedule.

“It was important for me to be to near him. I wanted to go to his sporting events and volunteer in his classroom when I could,” she said.

While he attended Chinook Trail Elementary School, Raetz began leading the ESL team at Academy International Elementary School in 2017.

Now six years later, Raetz son, a Liberty High School student, finds his way into his mother’s classroom. While teaching students, Raetz plays video of Rowan on the guitar using music as a way to connect with students.

Rapid Fire Questions

What is your why?
“The first thing that comes to mind is my family, my son and husband. They inspire me to keep going.”

Tell me about a time a student made a lasting impact on you.
“I will always remember Maricela. We were in class learning about arctic habitats and how the ice was melting. Maricela asked, ‘if the ice melted, where are the polar bears going to go?’ She kept asking questions and by the end of class, her eyes were welling with tears. As a class we asked, ‘what we can we do?’ The whole school become involved and eventually, our ideas and conservation efforts were chosen to present in front of Dr. Jane Goodall. It was Maricela wanting to do something about this problem and feeling empowered to find a solution that helped us create an authentic learning experience for the whole school.”

What keeps you going on the hard days?
“My students. I often reflect on the adventure I’ve had with them. Getting to learn alongside their parents, meeting my hero, Dr. Jane Goodall, and spending some time on the Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet. When the Commissioner wrote down notes from what I said, it made me feel empowered. I really felt like they were listening to me.”

What do you in your day to value all students?
“I start every class with a check-in on how we’re feeling. We make sure to value our emotions. This makes students feel valued because we often ask, where they’ve been, what they’ve done, what they’ve learned. When we’re learning a new language, and we can connect words to their native tongue, you can see their eyes light up.”

If you could pick a superpower, which one would it be?
“My superpower would be to break down someone’s walls and empower them to feel like they can do anything, while still having compassion for everyone around them.”

When you were a student, what did you love to eat for lunch?
“Growing up, I mostly had peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. I was jealous of my friends who bought hot lunch every day. On Friday, my friend would take chocolate pudding and spread it on her pizza. After telling my mom, she sent me with money to buy hot lunch. The pudding and pizza combination was just okay, but at least I got to buy hot lunch!”

What is your favorite school supply?
“This is not your typical school supply, but I love my hot glue gun. I can make any teaching material with a hot glue gun.”

Finally, is there a quote that inspires you?
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”