Teacher of the Year 2020

Teacher of the Year 2020
Posted on 10/16/2020

Danbury’s ‘Teacher of the Year’ shows ‘one person can make a difference’


DANBURY, CONN. — Danbury High School teacher Soraya Bilbao has built a career around helping others. Her extensive background includes working with numerous nonprofit organizations, including Americorps. She also spent three years volunteering with the Peace Corps., teaching English to village children from the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific.


When she joined DHS to teach English as a second language in 2014, her outreach continued: she served as an advisor for the Fight Child Hunger Club and supported the youth-led advocacy group CT Students for a Dream. She even testified at the State Capitol in support of giving undocumented students who attend college equal access to financial aid.


In recognition of her steadfast ability to give 150 percent of herself toward making a difference for her students, colleagues, school and community, Bilbao has been named Danbury’s Teacher of the Year 2020.


“Soraya Bilbao exemplifies the dedication and commitment of our teachers and is most deserving of the title of Teacher of the Year,” said Superintendent Dr. Sal Pascarella. “This has been an unusually difficult time for educators, yet Soraya has been able to connect with students through remote learning and her students have continued to show marked progress. Like many teachers, she puts in long hours helping students because she loves what she does and that can be seen by anyone who knows her.” 


Assistant Superintendent Kevin Walston, who was on the selecting committee, said that Bilbao launched the Spanish Advanced Placement/Independent Study Program for students learning English as a second language, in addition to helping secure funding to implement the Building Bridges to College program.


“A favorite quote of Ms. Soraya Bilbao underscores her effort and commitment to both our students and the great community: ‘One person can make a difference, and everyone should try,’” said Walston. “Ms. Bilbao strives to make the words of John F. Kennedy a reality for herself and all of the students she works with.”


Bilbao, who holds two master’s degrees from Fairfield University in industrial and organizational psychology and in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), first started as an ESL teacher seven years at DHS, where she works with 80 to 90 students a year. While there are 43 languages spoken at DHS, Bilbao said most of the non-English speakers speak Spanish or Portuguese, but she works with students who come from all over the world.


“Ms. Bilbao is a tremendous asset not only to DHS, but also to the City of Danbury. She spends countless hours after school working with students to ensure success. We have a tremendous number of excellent teachers at DHS, but Soraya stands out. She engages all the kids, holds high expectations and makes all of our students feel welcome,” said DHS principal Dan Donovan.


Appreciative of the collegial atmosphere at DHS, Bilbao considers her colleagues “in-house resources.”


“It’s a pleasure to work with such dedicated individuals. I have yet to meet or work with anyone who gives less than 100 percent,” Bilbao said. “There’s an esprit de corps. People are willing to share with each other strategies. Teachers are helping each other. It’s a very supportive environment for teachers and for students. It’s great place to be. When I interviewed here and walked out, I said ‘this is where I want to be.’ It has a lot of positive energy.”


Bilbao said her past experiences that took her thousands of miles from home gave her a better sense of direction and how to help students connect with language. It was during her travels abroad that she was immersed in cultural training and language assessment.


“All of that helps me empathize with my students,” Bilbao said. “I love when I’m able to see that they understand and the other thing that’s fun is thinking about how to present the material so they understand. My favorite part is when I see that my students get it. I put something together and then I see them applying and using what I hoped to teach them,” she said. “This is my calling. This is where I want to be – in the classroom.”