When Verónica Calderón-Speed started school as a young girl in south Texas, she spoke Spanish, and it was through her ESL teachers that she was able to learn English. Now at Hardin Valley Academy, she is able to do the same for her students. 

Calderón-Speed did not initially plan to become a teacher. She graduated college in Pennsylvania with a degree in social work, and only when she was encouraged by a relative to pursue the profession did she step into the classroom.

She started as a long-term substitute in a pre-algebra class, filling in for a teacher on maternity leave. Even as a sub, Calderón-Speed couldn’t stand not being able to help her students learn.

“I got the textbook, took it home, started teaching myself so I could go back and teach the students,” she said. “By the end of the school year, it felt very gratifying. It was so good to have them say things like, ‘I learned a lot from you. This was really fun. Thank you for doing this.’ And then I just got bit. This was for me.”

She returned to school to earn a teaching certificate and started at HVA as a Spanish teacher. The ESL position was only a part-time opportunity at the time, so she waited patiently until the role opened to a full-time gig. Then, she jumped at the chance. 

“I am the product of ESL education, so I understand the students that come in with no English language proficiency and are new to the culture, new to the country, and are very hesitant,” she said. “Once I share my story with them, they feel more at ease.”

Calderón-Speed’s passion for inclusion expands beyond the classroom as well. She aims to promote cultural diversity at HVA by creating a welcoming environment for all students and families. 

Last year, she worked to hang flags in the atrium of the school that represent the 57 countries and 29 languages that make up the HVA student body’s DNA. Her next project is partnering with the art teacher to display a sign at the school’s entrance welcoming students, families, and guests in all languages present at HVA.

Her work at the school has earned recognition from the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance at their inaugural E3: Elevating Excellence in Education Awards Dinner. 

KCS is proud to have teachers like Calderón-Speed at our schools, working hard for their students, bolstering their confidence, and making them feel welcome at school every day.

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