Barnes & Noble Names Spotsylvania Educator “National Teacher of the Year”

by | Dec 26, 2015 | Schools & Education

(L to R) Riverbend High School ESL teacher Tara Hefner and Riverbend senior Jeimy Alfaro. Photo courtesy of Barnes & Noble. Used with permission.

By Susan Larson

Riverbend High School ESL teacher Tara Hefner is the 2014-2015 national winner and “Teacher of the Year” in the Barnes & Noble My Favorite Teacher Contest. Hefner was nominated by Riverbend senior Jeimy Alfaro, and was chosen from more than 7,000 entries at Barnes & Noble stores nationwide.

“The Barnes & Noble My Favorite Teacher Contest celebrates thousands of teachers each year and recognizes their ability to inspire students,” said Sarah DiFrancesco, vice president of Business Development for Barnes & Noble.

Students nominated their favorite teacher by writing essays, poems or thank you letters sharing how that teacher influenced their life. “Entries were judged on the compelling nature of the teacher’s qualities, the sincerity of the student’s appreciation and the quality of expression and writing,” DiFrancesco said.

Excerpts from Jeimy Alfaro’s Essay

“Dear Mrs. Hefner, …I need you to know what a difference you have made, not only in my learning, but most importantly in my life. As you know, I spent the first 16 years of my life living in the most dangerous city in the world, San Pedro Sula, Honduras. While living there, I witnessed gang murders, drug abuse, and violence just on my walks to school. I had so much anxiety and fear every day, and I literally dreamt of what it would be like to have an opportunity to live and study in America.

“When that dream finally became a reality, I was faced with different struggles. I started school only knowing the words “no English,” and that became my response to everyone that spoke to me. I thought about giving up, quitting school, and finding a job to help my family more times than I can count. Then I walked into your classroom. You greeted me with a smile, and made sure I left each class with a hug. Most importantly, you made me believe in myself and that all my dreams could really come true…You said something that I will never forget. You told me, “I will never give up on you.” You put those words into action. When I told you that I couldn’t complete my homework because I didn’t own a computer or printer, you started an afterschool Homework Club for all the ESL students so we could use these things. …My grades improved a lot from this.

“When I needed to pass my Writing SOL in order to graduate this year, I thought there was no chance. But you did. You came to my house in the evenings and on the weekend to work with me on my writing and reading. The day I was called down to my guidance counselor and told that I passed my Writing SOL was the happiest day of my life. He told me that I passed, and that it meant I could graduate! What made me even happier was telling you, and seeing how proud you were of me. You cried and took me and a friend out to a steak dinner that night, just as you promised. You’ve always kept your promises to me, and I admire and respect how much you care for me and your students more than you will ever know.”


Hefner and Alfaro won the local contest (pictured) earlier this year, which qualified them for the national competition.

As Barnes & Noble Teacher of the Year, Hefner receives $5,000. She will be recognized by Barnes & Noble at a community celebration at Riverbend High School, 12301 Spotswood Furnace Rd., Fredericksburg, at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Riverbend High School also receives $5,000.

The honors come during the Virginia Department of Education’s Teacher Appreciation Week.

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