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NC’s Beginning Teacher of the Year Natalia Mejia calls for change

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  • "This whole week has been about my love for them, my students. It's because they are my passion, often giving me the reason to laugh and smile, my chosen family, my community, and why I lift my voice," said Natalia Mejia @CabCoSchools, the 2023 NC BTOY.

Natalia Mejia, a teacher at CC Griffin STEM Middle School in Cabarrus County Schools, was named the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) 2023 Empower NC Beginning Teacher of the Year (BTOY) last night, according to a press release.

Mejia teaches seventh and eighth grade students, and a video produced for the event said she believes students will not learn from someone they do not respect, trust, and love.

Dr. Jim Causby, NCCAT BTOY steering committee chair, presented the award, noting that 100% of Mejia’s students experienced growth.

“A student shared this,” he said. “She has amazing teaching skills, such as collaboration, empathy, and integrity. The love, attention, and acceptance she gives to every single one of her students is really special.”

Mejia has worked to increase the representation of Latinx students on student council.

In her remarks, Mejia thanked her principal, Yolanda Blakeney, for her support. When Mejia takes ideas to Blakeney, she said the response is always, “Go for it, girl!”

Thinking about her why “settled the background noise” of being a finalist for Mejia.

“This week has reminded me of my why I became a teacher,” she said. “This whole week has been about my love for them, my students. It’s because they are my passion, often giving me the reason to laugh and smile, my chosen family, my community, and why I lift my voice.”

Mejia’s students. Screenshot Mebane Rash/EdNC

“Education is in desperate need of change and revolution,” Mejia said, “and I can only hope I will be part of it.”

NCCAT Executive Director Brock Womble said, “Educators like Ms. Mejia embody what it means to be a teacher. Not only is she committed to teaching — she inspires her students to learn.”

The runner-up is Kirby Forbes a teacher at Lee County High School in Lee County Schools. An administrator said Forbes breaks down the material to the smallest detail and then helps students build it back up so they gain complete understanding, according to the press release.

Finalists spend the week at NCCAT.

A huge shout out to all of the finalists. Thank you for your leadership.

The finalists for the 2023 NCCAT North Carolina Beginning Teachers of the Year include:

Alexis Allred, Jackson County

Madison (Maddie) Baker, Catawba County

Ratasha Benton-Manley, Northampton County

Christian Boletchek, Roanoke Rapids

Izabella Botello, Iredell-Statesville

Karen Cardillo, Carolina Charter Academy

Jerico Carrillo, Guilford County

Katelyn Clarke, Pitt County

Breeana (Bree) Clayton, Henderson County

Jamie Conley, Brevard Academy

Kbria Filali, Pender County

Hannah Fitta, New Hanover

Kirby Forbes, Lee County

Samantha Fortner, Mitchell County

Kenna Gautier, Clinton City Schools

Emily Giardina, Chapel Hill Carrboro

Ariana Hunter, Rutherford County

Goodin Huss, Hoke County

Tonya McGill, Cumberland County

Natalia Mejia, Cabarrus County

Sabrina Moore, Mount Airy City

Gabe Patton, Johnston County

Darbie Rash, Ashe County

Nancy (Beth) Rose, Wayne County

Maria Sutton, Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (NEAAT)

Amber White, Rowan Salisbury

Carly Wright, Thomasville City Schools

You can watch the ceremony here:

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.