A 27-year-old teacher was adjudged the most outstanding educator of Saipan Southern High School this school year.
Jonathan P. Cabrera, whose teaching career started at SSHS in 2008, was conferred the prestigious Teacher of the Year award and he will be representing his Manta Ray family in the PSS-wide search for NMI Teacher of the Year. The overall winner will compete at the national level next year.
This is Cabrera’s first time to be given this recognition. He obtained his undergraduate degree in English and Theater from the University of Hawaii-Manoa and his master’s degree in English from Boston University. As soon as he finished his education, he came back to the islands and joined the Public School System as a classroom teacher.
Cabrera is a 12th grade mentor and handles close to a hundred students in three classes each day.
The recognition was something of a surprise for Cabrera. “It’s very humbling when your colleagues look at you and say ‘you deserve the honor,’” he said yesterday.
He considers being the Teacher of the Year a huge responsibility in terms of accountability. The honor also calls for any candidate to become a role model not only to their colleagues but to students as well.
Cabrera shared that teaching has been his ultimate desire since his younger years. “It was the very thing I wanted to be. At the beginning of the year, my students always asked me the same question, ‘Why did you want to be a teacher?’ and I always tell them that it’s the first thing I really wanted. I also considered other careers, but when I left Saipan in 2001 for college, I was determined to come back home and teach,” he said.
Cabrera said his grandparents, who were also both educators, were a great influence.
When he was still in school, Cabrera admired his teachers and had great respect for what they did. His teachers then, he said, were from the U.S. and the Philippines, who left their families and their comfort zones to teach in a little place in the middle of the Pacific, the Commonwealth.
“I told myself…I want to be like them. I have great respect for all my teachers and I can still name all of them,” he said.
Despite the challenges of the profession—the limited resources, the threat of funding cuts for schools, large classroom sizes, and other needs—Cabrera said his students and his colleagues continue to inspire him to better in his job every day. He is convinced that he’s headed in the right direction, just by knowing that he’s doing his best and for all the right reasons.
“Every year, my goal is to become a better teacher. Even though I was selected TOY, I don’t think that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my success as an educator. I want to become better every year because at the end of the day, if I became better my students will learn better, they will achieve more, and they will be ready to go out and get their degrees. I hope they will come back to serve our community,” he added.
As for what he enjoys best about his job, Cabrera said it is the heart-to-heart conversations he has with his students. “For those moments, I would use the word serendipity—being in the right place at the right time,” he said.
Cabrera describes teaching as a noble calling because it gives someone the chance to mold and shape young minds and an opportunity to reach students and affect their lives for a very long time. “Even though we’re not paid as much as other careers, this is where I want to be and this is what I want to do in my life,” he added.
Hailed Support Staff of the Year is Ferdinand Ngirmekur, SSHS’ school aide for more than two years. This father of three and first-time awardee said yesterday it is a privilege to be selected as one of the school’s awardees. The honor, he said, is testament to his reliability and a sort of reward for all the hard work and dedication he puts into his job.
Besides routine administrative work and doing school errands, Ngirmekur also assists staff and teachers and monitors the school’s network and laptop program.
Just like the students he serve everyday, Ngirmekur said he has also learned a lot from just doing his job. He credits dealing with different students every day for helping him become a better person. “I enjoy doing my work because I know in my heart that I can impact many lives,” he added.
Named Counselor of the Year is Joleen Borja, who has been with SSHS for six years. Borja was a classroom teacher for three years, rising through the rank to become the school counselor in 2008. This is her first time to be selected for the honor.
As one of the three counselors on campus, Borja describes her selection as a great honor. “I am very happy because we have a great team of counselors, so to be chosen for the award is really an honor,” she said.
Borja attends to an average of 50 students everyday. Just being able to see the direct impact of counseling on students is the most rewarding part of her profession. She helps them with their career and college searches, including financial aid, helps them with their emotional and social issues, and conducts classroom guidance on different topics. Borja also counsels at-risk students and those facing disciplinary actions.
“We advocate for the kids and we serve as their voice,” she said.
Leonardo Rabago, a senior Army instructor for the JROTC program, was named the Instructor of the Year. He describes the award as an “unexpected honor.” “I am very honored to be selected…but I don’t really look for it,” he told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
Rabago has been with SSHS for five years now, since 2007. He is tasked to oversee the school’s JROTC program, which has 152 students this year. He attends to mostly graduating students. Rabago said it is the aim of the program to build and develop good citizens who will become assets to the community.
“The most rewarding part of my job is when I see the students that they can assume our position within the program. But the best one is seeing them graduate and become productive member of society,” he said.
SSHS conferred its Teacher Aide of the Year award on Ed Guinto, who is with the school’s special education program. In the four years he has been with the school, this is his second time to be chosen for the honor.
Guinto was described by his principal, Jesse Tudela, as truly deserving for the recognition. Guinto is also last school year’s Teacher Aide of the Year.
Tudela thanked all the awardees for their hard work and commitment to SSHS. “I know that they go beyond and above their duties and I want to say that this recognition is one way for the community to know the type of staff and employees we have here at SSHS. We’re very proud of them,” he told Saipan Tribune.
SSHS is home to 881 students and 59 employees, including 31 classroom teachers.