Magaly Miralles knows just how difficult school can be for a little kid who doesn't speak English. Miralles, a teacher in Eagan, was 8 when she moved to Miami from her native Venezuela. Adjusting to second grade that year was "one of the most stressful events that a child can undergo," she says. Fighting homesickness and going to a school that didn't have a program for English-language learners, she often cried on the way to and from class.

But she stuck it out -- luckily for her students at Red Pine Elementary, where she has won a national award.

Miralles is this year's winner of the George I. Sanchez award, given by the National Education Association (NEA) to honor work that improves educational opportunities for Hispanic students. She will accept the award in July at an NEA dinner in New Orleans.


When Miralles came to the school to teach English-language learners five years ago, "It was as if an angel came through the door," said Gary Anger, Red Pine principal.

Miralles said she's proud of her work in the school's kindergarten program, which offers extended hours to ELL students. "It gives them that extra push" and helps them get used to school, she said. "They're very, very comfortable when they go into first grade."

It's comfort she didn't feel in second grade. Her father sent her to the United States to learn to speak English fluently, she said. He stayed in Venezuela to work, so their mom came to Miami with Miralles and her brother.

"He never thought it would be so challenging for us," she said.

Miralles went back to Venezuela after elementary school, returning much later with her own family.


Now, she spends some of her time working with other teachers on a program for Hispanic families that offers information about social services, as well as activities that encourage kids to embrace their heritage.

When her twin daughters started kindergarten, "I wanted them to keep Spanish at home," she said. Though her children are now grown, she still hears that desire from other parents. "They say they're losing their children to the second culture."