Mirta Valdés-Bradner is a 27-year veteran Spanish language teacher at North Caroline High School, the 2022-2023 Caroline County Teacher of the Year, and a National Board Certified Teacher. She is a member of the AP Advocates Program, a cadre of AP teachers who make the case for protecting and expanding AP in their schools and communities.
I strive to create safe, forward-thinking, and inclusive classrooms for all students, including those of Hispanic heritage, many of whom may be attending a traditional school for the first time. As a language student myself, I tell them often that their story is my story as a reminder that we are all here to support each other.
In my classroom, the climate is one of high expectations, yet we are all supportive of each other and respect each other’s opinions. I recently helped organize a schoolwide Unity Fair, in which students and community members presented their heritage and backgrounds. Personal stories are shared using the target language, as I share my own proud immigrant story and that of my parents as refugees from Cuba. Students are inspired to learn when language and culture connect to real world situations and scenarios.
As the Equity Committee chair for my school, anything I can share with my colleagues is already a step in the right direction. Opening the minds of others and seeing how we are all connected is part of this experience. As the 2022–2023 Caroline County Teacher of the Year, I have the responsibility to share all my learning and experiences with students and staff alike. To be a minority in this position gives me the opportunity to showcase my culture, and that of others, and to demonstrate how we are far more alike than different. Students see me and learn that there are many opportunities for people like us.
I believe that all students can learn and succeed in AP courses. Underrepresented populations often do not take AP courses because of the cost. When they do, they are more likely to succeed in college and save money and time by earning college credits with qualifying scores. As an AP advocate, I spend a lot of time trying to ensure that all students have access to advanced coursework opportunities and take advantage of the AP testing fee reduction available to low-income students.
The number of low-income students taking an AP exam increased by 12% in 2021 as advocates and legislators worked to close the equity gaps in Maryland. In recent years, my advocacy took me out of my comfort zone as I advocated for the cost of AP exams to be covered for low-income students and in support of House Bill 966, which standardizes acceptance of AP scores at Maryland state colleges. Seeing the bill signed into law in 2022 was a highlight of a two-year process to have more equality in how scores are accepted in the state’s higher education institutions.
Sometimes advocating feels uncomfortable, but speaking up and providing our students with opportunities is the right thing to do as education faces uncertainty in a rapidly changing world. This year, students from across the state and I advocated in Annapolis for more equitable access to advanced coursework throughout students’ four-year high school career—not just their junior and senior years. We need to intervene early on to encourage such coursework.
Advocacy is something that brings me to fight for our Maryland students—not just for my students, but for all students in our state who need a voice and an opportunity where none existed before.