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Spanish teacher connects to students with care

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — April’s Golden Apple Award winner is a Spanish teacher at Pike High School who also speaks the language of high school students. 

Students say Ms. Leiwanna (Wannie) Taylor connects with them through culture and care. While learning a new language can be hard, Ms. Taylor’s creative approach and passion for the subject make her una excelente profesora de español.

WISH-TV is Indiana’s education station, and every month, News 8 honors outstanding teachers with the Golden Apple Award. The Golden Apple Award comes with a trophy, a $500 school supply shopping spree at Teachers’ Treasures, and a special video featuring students and staff.

At Pike High School, the walls are filled with photos of outstanding teachers recognized for their accomplishments. And, in picture after picture, year after year, it’s proof that Ms. Wannie Taylor is truly an exceptional teacher.

“She is always there for everyone – honestly. Even if it is not school related and you are going through personal problems at home, she is always there to give you the advice you need and motives you to keep going,” sophomore Amy Alvarez said.

That’s why Alvarez reached out to WISH-TV and nominated Ms. Taylor for the Golden Apple Award.

“I nominated her because she is just wonderful and she deserves to be known,” Alvarez said. “I just felt like she deserved it — she just needs to be recognized because she has helped a lot of students and she is always so welcoming and she makes sure everyone is included. She never lets anyone feel left out.”

Many of Ms. Taylor’s students describe her as a friend, a mentor, or even a “school mom”. Plus, she thinks of her students as her own kids. Her classroom features a wall decorated with pictures of current and former students. And Ms. Taylor’s students think she is just as special.

“She is like my school best friend. I love her so much. She just deserves the world,” Elisha Gamble, a senior, said.

Gamble is not in Ms. Taylor’s Spanish class anymore but is one of several students who visit her classroom every day.

“Every day, I go see her,” Gamble said.

“A lot of kids like me, I will go just to talk to her about life… Like, ‘I am having problems with this and this,’ and she will give me advice. She will be that friend and give you good advice,” senior Mohammad Khaliq said.

These students say this connection with Ms. Taylor started during the coronavirus pandemic when Ms. Taylor made sure everyone was involved in every Zoom.

Students in a classroom at Pike High School. (WISH-TV photo)

“I had fallen asleep during Zoom,” Khaliq said. “And I was like, ‘Who is this calling me?’ and it was her, yelling through the screen on Zoom, telling me to wake up and get to class. When she did that, it was kind of funny, but it also showed me she really cares about me and wants me to be in class. And because of that she has motivated me a lot to do better in school.”

She also does that by having fun.

Ms. Taylor often incorporates games into education to help students process the language while having real-life experiences, immersing students in other cultures, and getting to know their culture along the way.

“We would teach her the TikTok dances and she would do them with us. And she just swears she is the best singer or dancer. She is a really silly, goofy person,” Gamble said.

From dance moves to cartwheels in the hallways, she brings joy to the entire school, including the teachers.

“She is truly a best friend,” Tameka Bryant said.

Bryant is a math teacher at Pike and also spends a lot of her time outside of school with Ms. Taylor.

“She is one of the funniest people I know. She is charismatic, she’s caring, she’s patient, she’s kind,” Bryant said. “She’s always adapting and always changing and thinking out of the box.”

Ms. Taylor is also inspiring staff along the way. Many fellow teachers consider her a mentor.

“Six years ago, I was Ms. Taylor’s student-teacher, and so she kind of took me under her wing, and as I like to say, she taught me everything that I know. She taught me how to form relationships with kids, how to make engaging lessons…she really just taught me everything that I know,” Josh Villafuerte, a fellow Spanish teacher, said.

Mave Davis also teaches Spanish at Pike. She says Ms. Taylor took her under her wing when she started.

“Usually, when a new teacher comes, she is always there to offer advice, there to help, there to listen,” Davis said.

Melissa Ziegler is a Spanish teacher and the department chair for world language at Pike High School. She often sits in on Ms. Taylor’s classes to learn from her methods of teaching Spanish.

“She is very much a mentor, and she has had a lot of student teachers, and she mentors new teachers a lot because her personality is just. She just loves helping people and she is really good at it,” Ziegler said. 

“She is definitely one of our best and brightest,” Pike High School Principal Troy Inman said.

During Ms. Taylor’s 20 years of teaching, Inman says, she’s always been among the best educators.

“We have a Top 30 banquet every year and she is always an honored educator. So the impact she makes on every level of student, whether it is a first-year Spanish student or a third-year, is tremendous. She is a master teacher. When you say that word, that is Ms. Taylor,” Inman said.

In fact, Ms. Taylor went to get her master’s degree in Spanish during the summer breaks to better help her students.

“She went and got a master’s in Spanish in Spain — which is unbelievable,” Inman said. “She paid for it herself and got a graduate degree there, which allows our students to get college credit.”

She has also taken courses in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia.

Therefore, it is time for Ms. Taylor to get some credit too with the WISH-TV Golden Apple Award.

News 8’s Hanna Mordoh and the team wanted to say ¡Felicidades! in person and went to surprise Ms. Taylor in class.

She was instantly crying and a bit thrown off by the cameras.

Once Ms. Taylor found out a student, sophomore Amy Alvarez, nominated her for the award, she said, “That’s so sweet!”

While wiping away tears, Ms. Taylor went on to say, “These allergies are terrible.”

After watching the video messages from her students, Ms. Taylor said, “I am extremely touched because, you know, through the pandemic and after the pandemic, it has been tough. But the one thing I always still love is my little buddies, my students. And I am glad they know I care about them.”

Ms. Taylor and some of her students at Pike High School. (WISH-TV)

She went on to say, “It is important to make sure they know somebody cares about them. I try to say something to every last student every day. It is important to treat them like people.”

In the end, whatever language you speak, it’s the language of love — how you make people feel, that’s most important.

¡Felicidades, Ms. Taylor!

To watch other Golden Apple Award recipients, click this link.

To nominate a deserving teacher for next month’s Golden Apple Award, submit a detailed nomination here.