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Education Alumna Recognized Nationally

Teacher and children’s advocate Sonya Romero says, “Poverty matters.”

Sonya Romero not only teaches kindergarten but also fosters two former students.

Sonya Romero not only teaches kindergarten but also fosters two former students.

Lew Wallace Elementary kindergarten teacher Sonya Romero knows that children learn best when their basic needs are being met. The two-time UNM alumna (B.A. 1997; M.A. 2004) often dips into her own funds to provide food, clothing, toiletries, and school supplies for her students. She also knows that children need to feel safe—physically, emotionally, psychologically, and socially—in order to learn.

“The one thing that interferes [most] with children feeling safe is poverty, and poverty matters,” she says.

Vice President of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, Sonya says that part of her job as a teacher “is to advocate for the voiceless children and the voiceless families.” Within the last year, Sonya’s voice was heard, first by KOB-TV, which recognized her through its “Pay It Forward” program, and then by the Washington Post which quoted her in an article. Then came The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which surprised Sonya with a video tribute secretly filmed with her students and co-workers, and two $10,000 checks, one for her and one for the school. In recent months, the show and members of the public have given additional donations to Sonya and the school.

For Sonya, her classroom is all about “community,” a place where everyone’s strengths are recognized and children learn to care about others. “I build my classroom as a whole community,” she says. “And UNM really was the foundation for that.”

Sonya continues to teach at Lew Wallace and plans to pursue a Ph.D. at UNM.