2019 OUTSTANDING TEACHER OF AMERICA
Sanger High School
Carmen Garvis was born in Puerto Rico and attended college at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst where she majored in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. Immediately following her college graduation, Carmen began her professional career at Westinghouse in Baltimore, Maryland as an associate engineer doing financial planning for offshore operations and conducting market analysis for startup opportunities. She later took a job at American Cyanamid in West Springfield, Massachusetts as a production supervisor, where she supervised production operations for toiletry and household products to insure quality and optimum performance. After 3 years there, Carmen was hired by Friendly’s Ice Cream Corporation as a Project Industrial Engineer in Troy, Ohio where most of her work revolved around workflow, methods and control measurements primarily to improve efficiencies and reduce costs and enhance efficiency. Her work eventually brought her to Bakersfield, California to work for the Nestle Ice Cream company in a similar capacity as she had at the Friendly plant.
Carmen's jobs required frequent travel and each new job opportunities took her further from her family in Puerto Rico. This constant travel schedule required having live-in child care. Consequently, after 15 years as an Industrial Engineer, Carmen finally decided she needed to be home to raise raise her children and spend more time in their lives and activities. When her children entered kindergarten, Carmen began volunteering at their school as a translator in the Special Education program. Eventually, the principal asked her if she would like to teach a Spanish class in an after school enrichment program. She accepted the job and worked with students there for three years before moving to Fresno, California where she again volunteered her time in the school. Carmen enjoyed working with young children and was encouraged by others who saw how she worked with kids to consider becoming a teacher.
Carmen came to believe that she could use her experiences as an industrial engineering experience in a different setting. She obtained an interim teaching credential and became a substitute teacher before accepting a long term substitute job at Sanger High School, in Sanger, California, teaching Trigonometry. She quickly found she truly enjoyed teaching high school students. Because Sanger High was populated mostly by hispanic students, she determined she could be a role model. Like many of her students, she too had been an English Learner but was able to get an excellent education and eventually enjoyed a high paying career. She became determined to offer the same opportunities to her students. Eventually, Carmen earned her single subject teaching credential in Industrial Technology from Fresno State University, and her single subject math credential and Masters in Cross Cultural Education, from National University.
She was hired as full time teacher at Sanger High School and was assigned to teach Geometry and has since taught all levels of Math, enjoyed teaching English Language Learners and, particularly enjoyed teaching a Special Education Math class for Autistic kids and others with heavy disabilities.
In 2014, Sanger High School began designing learning “Pathways” for students to select according to their interests. Because of her engineering background, Carmen interviewed and was selected to create a comprehensive, four year engineering program from scratch and developed an integrated program that offering students all of the A- G required courses for admission to the UC and CSU schools that also includes a progressive selection of Engineering classes for their entire four years of high School. Carmen began with a cohort of 25 Freshmen who all graduated in 2018 and in the fall of 2018 she opened school year with a total of 186 students in the entire Engineering Pathway.
Carmen designed the program for students to engage in open-ended problem solving by applying the engineering design process and using the same industry-leading technology and software that are used in the world’s top companies. She created an agreement with Reedley college where students receive credit for high school graduation and, at the same time, earn college credits. By giving her students several opportunities to learn a variety of engineering principles they are well prepared to enter post-secondary education or enter a career immediately after high school graduation.
Carmen believes that the best teachers show students where to look but not what to see. She pushes her students and demands they perform to the level she believes they are capable which is always much higher than the the students ever believed possible. She feels that when it is easy for them it is not a challenge. Her philosophy is to push students just a bit further with each new project. She never wants any student to fail so she works with them regardless of how long it takes for them to get it.
In Carmen’s senior engineering design class in 2019, groups of students select real life problems and spend almost an entire school year designing and engineering a functional product. This requires students to apply three years of instruction to solve a real world problem. In May of 2019, two of her student groups presented products they designed to NASA for testing by Astronauts and traveled to Houston in to present their concept to NASA. One of the two group projects was selected by NASA Astronauts as a design most likely to be useful in future space station design.
Carmen’s students graduate with a strong engineering foundation that prepares them well for higher education. The work accomplished in her classroom is equal to most undergraduate college courses. In addition, Carmen has become a pioneer in introducing more female students into STEM courses and has created a partnership with Cal Poly Pomona to sponsor the “Femeneers Program” for young women in STEM. Currently, 14 of her female students have been adopted by Cal Poly.
Carmen’s enthusiastic approach to teaching is contagious. She is described by both students and fellow teachers as dynamic, organized, creative and passionate about everything she does. Students are drawn to her and are inspired and motivated by her love of engineering and her support of her students. She runs her classes like a business. Her students believe in her and she believes in them. Through all the success and accolades she receives, she remains very humble. Carmen does not teach for recognition. Rather, she does everything to provide real life experiences and opportunities for her students.