Lyseth Spanish Teacher Wins ‘Teacher of the Year’ Award

José Iván Sabau Torrelo, fifth-grade teacher in Lyseth Elementary School’s Spanish Immersion program, has been selected as Teacher of the Year 2021 by the Ministry of Education, Embassy of Spain. In recognizing Sabau Torrelo, the Ministry of Education cited an “outstanding” mystery-solving gaming project involving multicultural cooperation that he created for his students.

The project, titled Operación Museo, connected Lyseth fifth-graders with students in Spain at Colegio La Salle in Santiago de Compostela, and Colegio Montserrat Fuhem in Madrid. Sabau Torrelo “implemented gamification methodology to develop a mystery-solving story where students became detectives,” the Ministry of Education said. “Using a dynamic, cross-curricular and student-centered approach, students used their artistic and language skills and explored information about Spanish painters, like Miró and others, as well as geography, mathematics, physical education, and culture to solve the case.”

Sabau Torrelo explained that the two-month gaming project began with a message from a “police officer” asking students for help in dismantling a worldwide organization that was stealing famous paintings from museums. “First, they needed to go to the detective academy to get their licenses,” Sabau Torrelo said. “They needed to overcome many different challenges to do that. Once they graduated, they needed to crack codes, learn about painters and use logical thinking and skills to solve six different cases.”

The Ministry of Education praised the video Sabau Torrelo made about the project and also the project’s other aspects. “The visual and technical quality of Operación Museo’s materials is very high and demonstrates the great potential of numerous, valuable educational tools,” the Ministry of Education said. “The project’s elements combined to create a fun, creative, and engaging plot – full of humor and surprises to fuel students’ interest and attention. Mr. Sabau Torrelo’s students will remember Operación Museo forever and the Spanish teaching community will love the opportunity to learn more about this enriching project.”

“I feel honored,” Sabau Torrelo said, regarding the recognition.

Last year, Lyseth Elementary School won the Ministry of Education, Embassy of Spain’s School of the Year 2020 Award in the elementary school category. Lyseth, home of the only public Spanish immersion program in Maine, won for its “outstanding immersion program” and the school’s “enthusiasm and dedication to the Spanish language and culture.”

The immersion program was begun at Lyseth in 2014 with one kindergarten cohort. A new class was added each year. There is now an immersion classroom at each grade level from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Superintendent Xavier Botana said, “The Portland Public Schools is very proud of Iván for winning the Teacher of the Year 2021 award. His innovative Operación Museo project exemplifies his dedication to student learning.  Spanish is the second most-spoken language in the United States and biliteracy in Spanish and English makes students attractive to colleges and future employers. We are very grateful to Iván and other staff at Lyseth for making the Spanish Immersion program there such a success.”

Lyseth Principal Lenore Williams said, “Iván has been steadfast in his commitment to ensure learning for his students is both engaging and interactive and connected to real-life experiences. His students are immersed in the target language and culture and they have content taught to them through an integrated teaching approach that unifies the arts, math, science, writing, and geography. “Operacion Museo” embodies Iván’s approach and beliefs about what and how students should experience learning.”

Carlos Gomez, the district’s Director of Language Development, said, “Engaging students is ‘profesor’ Sabau’s superpower!  His creativity and energy help students to learn language while they learn content and culture, making for a rich, memorable and life-changing experience for his students and colleagues at Lyseth.”

Information for this article was provided by Portland Public Schools as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at

York Middle School French Teacher a Regional Finalist for National NECTFL Teacher of the Year Award

Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL) recently announced the finalists for its 2021 Teacher of the Year competition. Among the 8 finalists is Stephanie Carbonneau, York Middle School French teacher and the Foreign Language Association of Maine (FLAME) 2020 World Language Teacher of the Year.

Stephanie Carbonneau has been teaching at York Middle School since 2004. She started teaching in 1997 and taught for 7 years in Massachusetts before returning home to Maine to continue her teaching career closer to where she grew up. She is known for her “Glow and Grow” approach to language learning in a mostly deskless environment that focuses on interactive communicative lessons, using authentic resources. Stephanie is co-creator of a Manie Musicale, now serving 2,000 schools both in the states and internationally. She has also been a regular guest on the podcast “Inspired Proficiency” and believes collegiality makes teachers strong and students stronger. The highlight of her year is the annual student trip to Québec City and witnessing her students take language risks.  Carbonneau’s students regularly medal at the state and national level on the Grand Concours, the National French Exam administered by the American Association of French Teachers.

Her passion for becoming a French teacher came from her Québecois family roots. Her mother spoke French through her childhood and when her grandmother passed away, so did the family’s desire to continue speaking French at home. Yet looking back, the aspiring ballerina knew that French was a part of her and her family’s identity that she didn’t want to let die.

My freshman year of college I had a French professor who was really hard and  he told me during office hours that I would never get above a C in his class because my French was weak and I should probably not sign up for any more courses. That made me mad! I set out to prove him wrong. Because I struggled as a language learner, I knew I could be a sympathetic teacher. I never ever wanted any student to feel badly about learning a language.  I also fell in love with the language, the culture, the people as well as the identity I have as a French speaker. I believe those qualities surpass being an expert at the language itself. 

In my class students begin to realize that language learning helps individuals recognize the value of each person in such a diverse world and asks them to contribute to a better one. Speaking another language makes us better humans. It provides an opportunity to “glow” and “grow.” Much like the feedback I provide my students, language learning provides us a purpose beyond ourselves and highlights the similarities, differences and injustices that exist in the world.  It truly is important to me that these young Mainers can speak French better and can use it for a good purpose such as welcoming new French speaking Mainers and the thousands of French Canadian tourists that visit our state. THIS is the true value of learning a language to me: Finding our voice for social justice, through language and creating a welcoming community. There is a whole world that exists outside our small Maine town and the country we live in.  I want my students to be able to say “I am a Mainer, an American, but I am also part of the world-wide Francophone community. I am a French speaker.” 

The NECTFL regional finalists were recognized on April 26, 2021 at the annual awards ceremony. The event highlighted the exemplary practice of all regional winners as innovative practitioners whose work has inspired students and communities.

The NECTFL region encompasses 13 states from Maine to Virginia and Washington, D.C.. Each state language organization goes through a rigorous selection process to choose its best representative of excellence in world language teaching. Dr. Ashley Warren was selected as the NECTFL 2021 Teacher of the Year and will go on to represent the organization at the national language teacher of the year competition at the ACTFL Convention in November.

I am proud to have represented my state language association that far! The whole process was very introspective, reflective, and humbling. I grew so much as an educator and met a wonderful cohort of other language colleagues from the region I can now call friends. Most importantly, my students will reap the benefits of my reflections.

For more information about NECTFL, please visit their website:


MEDIA RELEASE: World Language & ESOL Teachers of the Year Announced by FLAME

The Foreign Language Association of Maine (FLAME) honored award recipients at a virtual conference held recently including Maine’s 2021 World Language Teacher of the Year, Maine’s 2021 ESOL Teacher of the Year, and the Student Recognition Award.

Julie Speno
Julie Speno

Maine’s 2021 World Language Teacher of the Year is Julie Speno, a Spanish teacher at Camden-Rockport Elementary School. Julie has taught Spanish for more than 25 years and currently teaches elementary Spanish to K-4th grade students. In addition to teaching, Julie has presented over 200 hours of professional development at FLAME and many other conferences about teaching languages in elementary schools. Julie’s session “Calm in the Classroom” was chosen Best of FLAME 2019 and she was the keynote speaker at the NNELL (National Network for Early Language Learning) summer institute. Julie is especially well-known as the creator and illustrator of El Mundo de Pepita, providing resources for teaching elementary languages to teachers across the country.

The World Language Teacher of the Year award honors a Maine educator who has achieved outstanding results in teaching modern or classical languages. Other nominees for the award were: Traci Sorti, RSU 29; Jonna Bouré, Caribou High School; and Deb Backman, Cony High School.

The Maine English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Teacher of the Year award was also presented this year for the first time. The new award is co-sponsored by FLAME and the Maine Department of Education and honors outstanding ESOL educators in Maine.

Elena Sullivan
Elena Sullivan

This year’s ESOL Teacher of the Year is Elena Sullivan. Elena currently coordinates Augusta’s K-12 ESOL program and teaches at Cony Middle/High School. She has dedicated 31 years to teaching, both as a Spanish teacher and as an ESOL teacher. Elena’s leadership is evident in her willingness to serve her community and advocate fiercely for language education at the state level as a member of the FLAME Board and incoming president and at the national level in Washington through the Joint National Committee for Languages – National Council for Languages and International Studies. She has forged strong connections with the families of her students, supporting them as they transition to life in Augusta. Focused on equity for English learners, Elena works closely with content area teachers to ensure they are equipped with effective ESOL strategies.

Tommaso Wheeler
Tommaso Wheeler

In addition to FLAME’s Teacher of the Year Awards, they also presented the Student Recognition Award to Thomas Wheeler, a student at Orono High School. Thomas is an exceptional student of both French and Spanish. He jumped into French III as an 8th grader, earned his Maine Seal of Biliteracy in French in 10th grade, and won a silver medal in the Grand Concours, ranking 8th nationally. After completing all possible French courses, Thomas then moved to Spanish. He has already earned a silver medal on the National Spanish Exam and hopes to qualify for Maine’s Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish too. Thomas has a heart for service as well, most notably volunteering with CISV (formerly known as Children’s International Summer Villages), a youth organization to develop peace around the world.

The Maine Department of Education in joins FLAME in honoring the hard work and dedication of these amazing honorees.

For more information about FLAME or the awards, please visit:

Visiting Teachers from Spain Program

Is your school anticipating difficulty in securing a licensed Spanish teacher for the 2020-2021 school year or beyond? Do you want to expose your students to a native speaker and cultural expert? Are you trying to figure out how to staff a Spanish immersion program? Then the Visiting Teacher from Spain Program may be just the answer!

Maine’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Education of Spain was created to promote strong cross-cultural ties between the citizens of Maine and the people of Spain and to help address the uneven distribution of qualified instructors of Spanish in our state. Under this agreement, educators from Spain can be brought to teach in Maine schools for a period of up to three years, (a two-year extension may be possible after the third year), depending on the availability of each individual teacher, his or her willingness to stay for an extended period, and the school districts’ interest in extending their visiting teachers’ contracts beyond the initial year.

Visiting International Teachers are licensed to teach in Maine while holding the cultural exchange status described above.

The process of securing a Visiting Teacher from Spain is comprised of a few simple steps. An interested school or public district must first determine that they have a guaranteed position. Teachers on J-1 visas cannot be procured for openings that are uncertain or subject to elimination or change. Next, a detailed application must be completed and signed. New schools or districts also must sign a program contract, indicating a commitment to abide by all of the program’s requirements.

Both documents must be submitted together to Maine DOE by April 15, 2021. Maine DOE representatives will conduct remote interviews with Spanish teachers and select a pool of highly qualified candidates whose skills and backgrounds may fit the needs of Maine schools. The next step is to put their visiting teachers under contract in accordance with any local bargaining unit agreements. Visiting teachers must receive the same salary and benefits that any other teacher would receive, based on their educational attainment and years of experience. Visiting teachers arrive in Maine in mid-August and undergo an intensive pre-service orientation provided by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Maine DOE prior to their arrival in their Maine communities.

Participation by the visiting educator in a strong, year-long novice teacher mentoring program in his or her school or district is a requirement for securing a teacher through this program. The school or district also should find a host family for the first one to two weeks that the visiting teacher is in the community and be willing to assist the teacher with all aspects of getting settled. Again, the application deadline is April 15, 2021. Please secure the approval of your local board of education/sponsor to hire a teacher from Spain before the April 15th deadline.

See the 2021 program brochure for more details.

If you have any questions, please contact April Perkins or Manuel Collazo:

April Perkins
World Languages & ESOL/Bilingual Programs Specialist
Maine Department of Education
23 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333
Cell: (207)441-9043

Manuel Collazo
Education Advisor
Embassy of Spain, Education Office
General Consulate of Spain in Boston
31 Saint James Avenue, Suite 905 Boston, MA 02116-3606
Phone: 617 678 5920
Skype: manuel.collazo_educacion

Mt. Ararat High School French Teacher Given International Recognition 

An impressive honor has been bestowed upon deserving Maine educator Nathalie Gorey, a French teacher at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham. For her many years of leadership and commitment to promoting French language and culture through education, Nathalie has been named a Chevalier-Knight- in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques (French for “Order of Academic Palms”). 

“It really came as a surprise,” said Nathalie after finding out that she had been recommended for the award by the French Consul’s staff in Boston, who know her work as an advocate and a teacher of French language and culture.

The Ordre des Palmes Académiques,  originally established in 1808 by Emperor Napoleon, is an Order of Chivalry of France bestowed by the French Republic to academics and cultural and educational figures. The recognition honors major contributions to French national education and culture by French expatriates who expand French culture throughout the rest of the world.

Born and raised in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, and France, Nathalie’s heritage is one of the most influential factors in her desire to share the French language and culture with students. She got her first taste for teaching French during the last year of earning her Master’s degree, when she  travelled abroad from the University of Angers, France to the University of Limerick, Ireland and worked a part-time job at the local Alliance Française, an after-school program where she taught French to Irish kids.

“I love sharing my native language with students, a language which makes up a third of the English language,” said Nathalie. “I went to school studying three foreign languages, so I know how valuable it is to learn and communicate in a second language and discover other cultures.”

After returning to France and graduating, she took a rare opportunity through a partnership between her university in France and the University of Maine System to travel to Maine and spend a year as a teaching assistant at the University of Maine at Machias (UMM), where she helped start and grow a vibrant French program while immersing herself in American and Maine life. 

What started out as a one-year assignment turned into a successful professional choice that developed into a long-term teaching career, and prompted her to start a family and relocate to Maine permanently.

“I am passionate about teaching about the Francophone world, opening students’ minds to other lands and cultures,” said Nathalie. “That is what is great about teaching a language – you get to also teach geography, history, art, literature, music, literature, and cooking,” she added. 

Nathalie has nearly three decades of French teaching under her belt at both UMM and UMA, and through other secondary French teaching positions in Maine, including her current position at Mt. Ararat High School.

“Some rewarding aspects have been seeing students go on with French studies in college, even become a French teacher as a career,” explained Nathalie. “ Or teaching about the Acadian history in Maine and seeing my students understand the background of their own ancestors!”. And she added, “Taking students on trips to Quebec or France is also very rewarding, seeing the kids applying their skills and making those connections to what they have been learning in class, with the language and culture”.

 Outside of school, she is the Maine chapter president of the AATF (American Association of Teachers of French), representing Maine teachers through their professional organization. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Alliance Française du Maine  as their pedagogical coordinator, and advises them on their cultural events among other things. Nathalie has also been very active in the arrival and settling of French-speaking African immigrants in Maine over the past four years, serving as the French translator for the Maine-based African newspaper Amjambo Africa!.

Metal “I feel like Maine is the perfect place to also make connections, with the Franco-American heritage and the renaissance of French thanks to the African immigrants,” said Nathalie.

Plans for a formal recognition event and ceremony are in the works for this coming fall, following COVID-19 safety measures. In the meantime, Nathalie has received an official letter of recognition from the French Embassy and a medal honoring her lifetime efforts to promote French culture and language all over the world. 

The Maine Department of Education congratulates Nathalie Gorey for her tireless efforts as a world language educator, as an advocate for French culture, language and teachers, and for this well-deserved, prestigious award honoring her hard work and continued advocacy.