Sandra Forero helps her students paint a cardboard airplane.

This year’s Ruth Henderson Award winner, Ms. Sandra Forero, opens the world to her students.

The Dual Language Spanish Immersion teacher has turned her North Buncombe Elementary School kindergarten classroom into a hub of global learning. For Hispanic Heritage Month, she’s taking the kids on an imaginary trip to all 21 countries that designate Spanish as the official language. By building and painting a cardboard plane, drawing self-portraits on their “passports,” and stamping their passports with 21 flags, the kindergarteners are taking flight with hands-on learning. And in this Dual Language Spanish Immersion classroom, nearly all their instruction is in Spanish. 

“I believe that even if every child goes at their own pace, they’re able to be successful in everything,” Ms. Forero said. “They just need the seed and the guidance to make it possible. When we take real life experiences and simulate them in a classroom, these give us the opportunity to learn something that brings in our attention and shows the power that each of us has inside. In this way, for me, a classroom lesson is not just about learning standards and skills. It is also an opportunity to build connections and relationships with ourselves, home, school, and our entire world!”

North Buncombe Elementary staff chose Ms. Forero as the school’s 2023 Teacher of the Year, and at this year’s Teacher of the Year banquet, she received the surprise recognition as Buncombe County Schools’ 2023 Ruth Henderson Award winner. The award, named for legendary Erwin High English and business teacher Ruth Muse Henderson (1930-1990), honors a community-minded, altruistic teacher chosen from among all area teachers of the year.

“Her friends and colleagues describe her as an inspiration and state that her love for our profession and her kindergarten students is inspiring,” said 2022 Ruth Henderson Award winner Karina Padilla, who introduced Ms. Forero at the banquet. “Promoting a diverse learning experience and ensuring her students build relationships - not only within her school or community - but around the world, she is shaping a more accepting and kinder future for us all.”

All six BCS districts currently have at least one elementary school with a Dual Language program. Participating students become bilingual and biliterate. They have greater cultural fluency, are more prepared for a global society, and in many cases, perform better academically. Learn more at

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