Oakley Elementary School teacher Gina Minder-Maldonado

Gina Minder-Maldonado, an Oakley teacher, was nominated for National Life Group’s LifeChanger of the Year award. She is seen here with her husband, Juan Maldonado, and 7-year-old son, Aiden. 

One of Oakley’s own has made it onto a prestigious list. 

Gina Minder-Maldonado, also known as Mrs. M&M – a second-grade teacher at Oakley Elementary School – was nominated for National Life Group’s LifeChanger of the Year award among teachers across the nation. The award recognizes individuals in education who go above and beyond the call of duty to make a positive impact in students’ lives. 

“For me (being nominated) is very surprising. I am not one to toot my own horn,” she said of the nomination by Trish Giraldo. “I am very much the opposite. I can be very critical of myself, and I always see areas where I need to improve. I work with amazing teachers at my district, and I have had wonderful master teachers. I only strive to be like them someday.” 

With 28 years of teaching under her belt, the onset of Minder-Maldonado’s career in education began when she was only 15, when she worked with preschool children while earning her Early Childhood Education units. She then moved into the private kindergarten scene as she finished college and the credential program before the Oakley Union Elementary School District (OUESD) scooped her up in 1999. 

“One of the highlights of being a superintendent is having the opportunity to work with amazing people,” said OUESD Superintendent Greg Hetrick. “Gina Minder-Maldonado serves as a great example of all that is right in public education, and she is truly a life-changer.”

Minder-Maldonado has served her district in roles such as English learner liaison, English language arts lead, math lead, technology lead, beginning teacher support provider and master teacher for student teachers. As someone who believes teaching is about evolving and staying current with educational trends, she actively seeks training opportunities and enjoys piloting new curriculum or technology within her classroom. She noted STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) activities as some of her favorite. 

Within the realm of education, Minder-Maldonado said she believed the teacher-student connection was most important, as she recalled her own elementary and middle school experiences to be rather unpleasant – as a shy student, she felt hidden and disconnected with her teachers and disliked school. It wasn’t until she attended Carondelet High School that caring teachers helped her see what kind of student she could be and set the pace for what type of teacher she would become.

“I spend a lot of time setting the community and feel of my classroom. I want students to be comfortable, to feel safe and to be happy to come to school,” she said. “When you have a good relationship with your students, they are more likely to feel positive about class and about school in general. They are also more willing to have a go at hard work, to risk making mistakes and to ask for help when they need it.”

The nomination period for the LifeChanger awards will close this fall and winter, and the winners have the chance to receive cash prizes in varying amounts up to $10,000 to be shared with their school districts. Minder-Maldonado said if she won, she hoped to obtain more Chromebooks, Kindles, engineering sets and other STEAM supplies to benefit students in the OUESD. But ultimately, she said all teachers should be named LifeChanger of the Year.

“Teachers are a special breed. Teachers definitely did not go into their profession for the monetary benefit,” she said. “We chose this profession to make a difference. It is not easy, and there are days that we all bang our heads on our desks or go home crying. But despite the political side of education, the lack of funds for our schools, the challenging students, the challenging parents, etc., we still come back each day because we want to be there for our students and do the best that we can for them.”

For more information, visit www.lifechangeroftheyear.com.

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Staff Writer

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