PORTLAND — Grecia Caraballo, a Spanish immersion teacher at Lyseth Elementary School, was named teacher of the year by the Foreign Language Association of Maine.

Caraballo was recognized at FLAME’s recent annual conference, where she was honored for “working with children and inspiring them to delve into new experiences and cultural activities,” according to the organization.

“They are excited about Spanish because of (Caraballo’s) caring guidance and enthusiasm,” a FLAME press release said.

To be considered for teacher of the year, an educator must “achieve outstanding results in teaching modern or classical languages,” the organization said.

In honoring Caraballo’s achievements in teaching, FLAME also noted, “The engagement of the children in her classroom is remarkable. The students love her, and she is also well thought of in her school.

“She has organized professional learning communities and worked tirelessly on many other (school) activities in which she deftly incorporated and showcased her work with students in the Spanish classes.”

This is Caraballo’s first year teaching Spanish at Lyseth. Prior to joining the Portland School Department, she taught at Kennebunk Elementary School for four years.

Caraballo was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States with her family at the age of 11. She grew up in New York City and has lived all over the country with her husband, who was in the Army.

“The military brought us to Maine,” she said this week. “Now that my husband is retired, we have decided to make Maine our permanent home.”

Caraballo teaches second grade and, as part of Lyseth’s language immersion program, she teaches all subjects – including math, reading and history – in Spanish.

“The way the Spanish immersion program works is that parents choose to enroll their children in kindergarten,” she said. “The students receive instruction only in Spanish (and) by the time they get to me in second grade they are fluent.”

Caraballo called the language immersion program “the opportunity of a lifetime” for her students, adding, “I love teaching in my native language all day.”

She said the language immersion program is important because it’s the best way for children to become fluent in a second language. “It’s most effective in the lower grades because the younger you are, the easier it is to learn (another) language.”

When asked about being named teacher of the year by FLAME, Caraballo said, “Teaching is my life and, to be honest, it feels very good to be validated for (doing) what I love.”

“I love my job and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in a program like this,” she added. “I strongly believe in what we are doing (at Lyseth) and I am grateful to the parents. They are providing their children with a wonderful opportunity.

Lenore Williams, the principal at Lyseth, said this week that Caraballo “has a passion and commitment for sharing her native language and culture with students, and strives to help them understand that becoming fluent in another language is a critical skill in our world today.”

She said taking part in the language immersion program also helps the students “to be more culturally aware and sensitive,” which is important in a world that is so closely linked by the ease of travel and instantaneous sharing of information.

The honor bestowed upon Caraballo was “a proud moment for Lyseth and the Portland Public Schools,” Williams said. “We are proud of the (immersion) program and know that it’s only successful because of the caliber of (our) teachers, such as Grecia.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Grecia Caraballo, shown with her second-grade Spanish class at Lyseth Elementary School in Portland, was recently named the best foreign-language teacher in Maine.

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