Glenwood Springs Middle School’s Fall Rivera shortlisted for Colorado Teacher of the Year

Glenwood Springs Middle School science teacher Autumn Rivera gives students an interactive life cycle lesson outside of the classroom on Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

A fervent leader and advocate for teachers and education. A committed teacher who takes care of her students inside and outside the classroom. A modern educator using the latest tools to meet students in their worlds. A caring person who seems to be in several places at once.

Autumn Rivera, a sixth-grade science teacher at Glenwood Springs Middle School, is one of seven finalists for Colorado’s 2022 Teacher of the Year award. The winner will be announced at the end of October.

Rivera is also the college senior science teacher for the Roaring Fork School District and is a board representative for the Colorado Association of Science Teachers. She is the co-chair of the Factory Royalty Waiver Committee. More so, she teaches education at Colorado Mountain College.

With a busy schedule, she always finds time to go above and beyond for her students, even after they graduate from GSMS Cougars.

Glenwood Springs Middle School science teacher Autumn Rivera gives students an interactive life cycle lesson outside of the classroom on Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Kristy Helms is the mother of Lyndsay, a freshman at Glenwood Springs High School this year. Lyndsay was part of Rivera’s “team” – an advisory group meant to build support within schools – every three years at GSMS. After Lyndsay’s first prom, she – along with all of her friends on the team – received a recording text from Rivera.

“Even though these children are no longer at her school, she is still looking after them,” said Kristy Helms. “His teaching doesn’t stop just at school or in his classroom. She goes beyond.

Helms said Rivera attends sporting events for current and former students and stays involved with them as much as she can.

In over 16 years as an educator, Rivera has made an impact on the lives of countless students of all ages, from elementary to college.

Roots of teaching

Rivera followed in her mother’s footsteps, who taught college math at Eagle, then moved on to CMC as well.

When she started out, young Rivera remembers how she would put notes on the board for children to copy out and focus on learning the textbooks with hindsight. Now she creates TikTok videos that she inserts into her PowerPoint presentations. She takes her students on a field trip. She uses yarn and assigns her students species to demonstrate the food web. She’s paying – with the help of donations from parents – for a Gimkit subscription, a competitive game kids can play on their Chromebooks to add a gaming edge to studying.

Glenwood Springs Middle School science teacher Autumn Rivera talks about the classroom life cycle Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“I just look back and I’m mortified,” Rivera said. “Science is something happening around us all the time, and we have to learn to apply it and answer questions and solve problems from it. “

Rivera said she has evolved to come to students at their level. Where she dictated from a textbook, she now asks students questions, even if that means that a conversation about the food chain has somewhat derailed into a conversation more focused on defecation.

She believes this has helped her develop better relationships with students and make the learning experience more valuable. For some students, it pays off.

“She makes learning fun,” said Valeria Carrillo, current student at Glenwood Springs Middle School. “She doesn’t just make you work. She makes it an activity.

Voices for teachers

Rivera has two master’s degrees, one in Science Education from Colorado College and the other in Educational Leadership from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

With this second degree, she took her passion for education to the next level, championing teachers and trying to be the rising tide that lifts all ships at GSMS and beyond, serving as CC’s mentor for new teachers during at less than a decade.

After returning to the Western Slope, one of the ways she has focused this passion is to create a voice for rural teachers.

“The amount of stuff she does really well is what’s really crazy,” said GSMS director Joel Hathaway. “The fact that she can, day after day, class after class, bond with kids, get kids interested in science, be so enthusiastic, have super effective lessons and engagement, and do all the millions of things that ‘she does for this school, this community, the neighborhood and the state is amazing.

Glenwood Springs Middle School science teacher Autumn Rivera gives an interactive lesson with sixth graders on the Life Cycle, outside of the classroom on Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Rivera has the opportunity to be the first teacher in the Roaring Fork School District to be named Colorado’s Teacher of the Year since at least 1963, as far as records of the award show on the Department of Education website. Colorado Education.

The complicated application process put her off a bit of wanting to win the award early on, but now that she’s in the final stages, she enjoys the recognition.

The recipient is nominated for the National Teacher of the Year Award and becomes a member of the Colorado Education Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet.

“I don’t think I’ve let myself fully think of that yet,” Rivera said. “If I won, I would go and speak for the teachers, doing all of this. It sounds a little intimidating, but I think it would be cool. When I take a step back, I work really hard. I really try to stand up for teachers and have spent a lot of my career supporting students and teachers.

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