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For Adams 12 top teacher, 'the lightbulb' is the reward

Amy Rehberg, who comes from a family of teachers, helps immigrant students learn English

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Amy Rehberg, who teaches English to immigrant students at Horizon High School, comes from a family of educators. Her parents, grandmothers, and several aunts, uncles and cousins are teachers.

But Rehberg decided to take a different career path after graduating from college with an English degree.

“My friend and I decided to travel the world to exotic places and be bartenders, and make lots of money,” she said. “I was living in the Virgin Islands, working at a yogurt stand at the top of a mountain, and had a lot of time to read. I met a man who didn't know how to read, and he would sit with me while I read, so I talked to him about reading.”

That's when she knew teaching was in her blood.

Rehberg began teaching at Horizon 24 years ago and was recently awarded the Adams 12 Five Star Schools Certified Educator of the Year award, as well as the Jared Polis Foundation Teacher Recognition Award.

She is also up for the Colorado Teacher of the Year award, which is announced in the fall.

Adams 12 Superintendent Chris Gdowski said Rehberg is a huge asset to the district.

“One of the biggest challenges in education is serving under-represented populations of students,” Gdowski said. “No one has a better track record with proven results serving these students than Amy. She exemplifies what a teacher of the year should be — a creative, out-of-the-box thinker who sincerely cares for students ... She inspires us all to be better educators ..."

Rehberg has taught grades from nine to 12 at the Thornton school, working with students who speak little or no English at all. Although Rehberg speaks a little Spanish, she said teaching students English is challenging, and that's why she likes it.

“My classroom is very animated,” she said. “We do a lot of acting, some pantomime. We use pictures and we sing.”

She was instrumental in starting a program at the school called Adelante, Spanish for “Forward”, with fellow teacher Brad Turano. Adelante helps students learn the steps necessary to get into college.

She started out teaching language arts, moved into the Advanced Learning Program helping juniors and seniors who were behind in credits graduate on time. She realized there were more English as a Second Language (ESL) students who were struggling to graduate.

“I took a year sabbatical, studied to be a linguistically diverse educational specialist, and came back to teach ESL,” Rehberg said. “I know a little Spanish, a little French, a smidgen of Vietnamese and now a little Chinese. But I speak English very well.”

“A lot of my students' parents want their kids to succeed, but they don't know how to guide them. We help them get started on the right path for college,” she said. “There's the idea that you don't want to leave the family — the family structure is vital — and the idea of sending a child to live on a campus can be daunting.”

Rehberg said the best thing about teaching is seeing students learn — and knowing that no two days are the same.

“When you see that lightbulb go off, or you hear them use language correctly," she said, "that's the best.”

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