Glenwood Springs Middle School’s Autumn Rivera up for Colorado Teacher of the Year
A staunch leader and advocate for teachers and education. An involved teacher who takes care of her students inside of the classroom and out. A modern educator using the latest tools to meet students in their worlds. A caring individual who appears to somehow be in multiple 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 victor will be announced in late October.
Rivera is also the middle school science lead teacher for the Roaring Fork School District and is a board representative for the Colorado Association of Science Teachers. She’s the co-chair for the mill levy override committee. Even more, she teaches education at Colorado Mountain College.
With a busy schedule, she still finds time to go above and beyond for her students, even after they’ve graduated from being GSMS Cougars.
Kristy Helms is the mother of Lyndsay, a freshman at Glenwood Springs High School this year. Lyndsay was in Rivera’s “crew” — an advisory group meant to build support within schools — all three years at GSMS. After Lyndsay’s first homecoming dance, she — as well as all her friends from the crew — received a check-in text from Rivera.
“Even though these kids aren’t at her school anymore, she’s still checking on them,” Kristy Helms said. “Her teaching doesn’t just stop at school or in her classroom. She goes beyond.”
Helms said Rivera goes to sporting events for current and former students and stays involved with them as much as she can.
In her more than 16 years as an educator, Rivera has impacted the lives of countless students across all ages, elementary through collegiate.
Rivera followed in the footsteps of her mother, who taught middle school science in Eagle and then later moved on to CMC, as well.
When she first started, the younger Rivera remembers how she would put notes on the board for the kids to copy down and focus on textbook learning with a cringe. Now, she makes TikTok videos that she inlays in her PowerPoint presentations. She takes her students on field trips. She uses yarn and assigns her students species to demonstrate the food web. She pays — with the help of parent donations — for a Gimkit subscription, a competitive game that kids can play on their Chromebooks to add a game-edge to studying.
“I just look back, and I’m mortified,” Rivera said. “Science is something that’s happening around us all the time, and we need to learn how to apply it and how to answer questions and solve problems from it.”
Rivera said she’s evolved to come to the students on their level. Where she used to dictate from a textbook, she now asks the students questions, even if it means a conversation about the food chain somewhat derailing into a conversation more focused on defecation.
She believes it’s helped her better develop relationships with the students and make the learning experience more valuable. For some students, it’s paid dividends.
“She makes learning fun,” current Glenwood Springs Middle School student Valeria Carrillo said. “She doesn’t just make you do work. She makes it an activity.”
Voice for teachers
Rivera has two master’s degrees, one in science education from Colorado College and another in educational leadership from University of Colorado – Colorado Springs.
With that second degree, she’s taken her passion for education to the next level, advocating for teachers and attempting to be the rising tide that raises all ships at GSMS and elsewhere, serving as a mentor at CC for new teachers for at least a decade.
After returning to the Western Slope, one of the ways she focused that passion is creating a voice for rural teachers.
“The amount of stuff she does really well is what the really crazy part is,” GSMS Principal Joel Hathaway said. “The fact that she can, day after day, class after class, build relationships with kids, get kids excited about 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 district and the state is amazing.”
Rivera has the opportunity to be the first Roaring Fork School District teacher to be named Colorado Teacher of the Year since Basalt High School’s Leticia Ingram in 2016 according to the Colorado Department of Education website.
The complicated application process dissuaded her a little from wanting to win the award early on, but now that she’s in the final stage, she appreciates the recognition.
The recipient goes on as a nominee 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 win, I would be going and speaking on behalf of teachers, doing all of that. That seems a little daunting, but I think it would be cool. When I step back, I work really hard. I really try to advocate for teachers, and I’ve spent a lot of my career supporting students and supporting teachers.”
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