APU Alumnus Named Top Teacher with National Prize

by Abigail E. Peck

In a classroom at the KIPP Raíces Academy in East Los Angeles, fourth grade students are encouraged to unlock their potential through innovative and personalized approaches to learning. Teacher Joshua Martinez ’04 cultivates this unique classroom experience and yields outstanding results. Among thousands of remarkable educators, Martinez is one of only four recognized with the prestigious 2017 New Teacher Project Fishman Prize. As a winner of this award, Martinez receives $25,000 and the opportunity to collaborate with other exceptional teachers for a six-week summer residency program with the goal of enhancing instructional practices at school districts around the country.

The residency takes place at various locations throughout the U.S., including Washington DC where these top teachers will learn about public policy related to education and meet national education leaders. Finally, prize recipients will share their teaching strategies by creating and publishing an essay on the Fishman website.

While an undergraduate at Azusa Pacific University, Martinez was named Philosophy Student of the Year. His studies built the framework for his teaching methods. Martinez challenges his students to wrestle with difficult questions and discover “the why” behind their answers, while building a climate of mutual respect. His fourth-graders are given the freedom to move around the classroom and stand during lessons with the expectation that they know how to best monitor their attention span. Each morning begins with a brief lesson on the brain and how to refocus amidst stresses of the day.

These techniques are paying dividends. According to the Fishman Prize website, 82 percent of Martinez’s students score advanced and proficient in math and 92 percent score advanced and proficient in English on their latest Smarter Balanced assessments, compared to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s averages of 31 percent and 36 percent, respectively. His students read an average of 1 million words per year—tripling the 300,000 word per year average of a typical fourth grader.

“It is a humbling responsibility as a teacher to nurture the confidence of my students,” said Martinez. “Each student desires to be successful. They just need the tools and opportunity to do so.”

Martinez connected with KIPP Raíces Academy through Teach for America, a nonprofit organization with the mission to enlist, develop, and mobilize leaders to grow and strengthen educational equity and excellence. The KIPP Raíces Academy is a tuition-free public charter elementary school currently serving 545 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. KIPP has 13 schools in South and East Los Angeles serving more than 5,000 students. Of those, 95 percent graduate from high school, and 73 percent persist in or graduate from college. The holistic development of the students begins daily with the investment of teachers like Martinez.

Unique to KIPP, teachers conducts home visits at the start of each school year. Martinez said that visiting the families of his fourth graders gives him the ability to bridge the gap between teachers and parents, uniting their expectations.

“This community is built on resilience and works extremely hard for their children, and I cannot help but work hard for those who are sacrificing,” said Martinez. “Each of my students is capable and bright, and through constant encouragement they excel once they begin to believe in themselves.”