At Ventura’s Montalvo School, Patty Peinado is known as a dynamic teacher, an inspiration to her students, their parents and her colleagues. But her childhood experiences in the classroom were hardly stellar.

Peinado said she repeated first grade and had to have a tutor in reading, and her grades were so poor in high school — where she was preoccupied by sports and social activities — that she had trouble persuading her teachers to let her take Spanish. She did not begin learning the language until she was 17 years old.

Somewhere along the way, her attitude toward learning changed.

Last week, Peinado, 35, was named bilingual Teacher of the Year by the California Assn. for Bilingual Education. Kindergarten teacher Mireya Rodriguez, from the Hueneme Elementary School District’s Fred L. Williams Elementary School, was one of two runners-up for the award.

Peinado, who teaches second grade, said her turnaround began with a desire to communicate with her husband’s parents, who spoke only Spanish. And during an after-school job at a day-care center when she was in high school, she developed a love of working with children, especially low achievers.

Her story, Peinado said, “makes me an excellent example for my students. I tell my second-graders, ‘I went through first grade twice and look at where I am. I made it. Those of you who can’t do it yet, don’t worry. You can make it.’ “

Peinado hails from a family of nine children. Three of them — including Peinado — were adopted. She said her mother’s patience as Peinado struggled with reading set an example that she still follows.

Peinado, who holds an undergraduate degree in Spanish from UC Santa Barbara and a master’s degree in reading and bilingual education from Cal Lutheran University, was chosen from among seven nominees statewide. The award was announced last week at the bilingual education association’s annual conference in Anaheim.

“She’s one of those people who have energy coming out of every pore of their body,” said Montalvo Principal Marie Atmore. “With the kids, she has extremely high expectations, and mostly they come up to them. She has high expectations for the parents too. She asks them to support her program and their children.”

Peinado is one of three bilingual teachers at Montalvo, which is in the Ventura Unified School District. About 90 of the school’s 500 students have limited English skills, Atmore said.

Peinado organizes extracurricular activities for students and parents, including programs that accommodate the schedules of working parents. She has also started a reading program half an hour before the regular school day for students who need extra help.

Jennifer Robles, bilingual specialist for the Ventura Unified district, said Peinado was a founding member of the Ventura/Oxnard chapter of the association. Robles credited Peinado with helping to increase membership to almost 200 countywide, making it one of the top five of the 50 association chapters statewide.

“Her enthusiasm is so contagious,” Robles said. “She’s like a shot in the arm.”

Peinado, who is married and has two sons, won $100 for herself and $200 for the scholarship fund of the local chapter. The Spanish Consulate in Washington, D.C., also awarded her a three-week trip to Madrid next summer to attend a workshop on children’s literature.

Peinado’s classes are a mixture of Spanish-speaking children and children who speak English but whose parents want them to be exposed to a second language.

“I have high expectations for all students,” said Peinado, who is teaching her two sons to be fluent in English and Spanish. “But you don’t just teach in the classroom, you have to go way beyond that with language-minority students. I believe they are going to be the majority one day, and we do want an educated majority.”

Rodriguez, who majored in Spanish at UCSB and has a master’s degree in education from Azusa Pacific University, is also a member of the Ventura/Oxnard chapter of the association. She has developed a reading program that allows students to take books home every week to read with their parents.



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