Luz Roth, who has taught at Sherman’s Washington Elementary School for 20 years, was formally named Texas’ 2016 Bilingual Education Teacher of the Year over the weekend.

Awarded the title by the Texas Association for Bilingual Education, Roth was named the top teacher out of the more than 1,300 other nominees from across the state. Roth accepted her award in Galveston Saturday before the TABE Executive Board and selection committee. Washington Elementary Principal Amy Pesina said Roth is an outstanding educator and one who betters the performance of students and teachers alike.

“She is a phenomenal teacher,” Pesina said. “She loves her students and she loves the craft of education. And seeing how well she can get her students prepared for the next grade level and how she can support other students and teachers is both exciting and humbling.”

And prepare her students she does. A press release issued by the Sherman Independent School District on Monday listed Roth’s classes, both bilingual and general education, as having the highest STAAR scores in the district. Recipients of the award are considered through the testimony of principals and fellow teachers, and based on the academic achievement of the teacher’s students.

Roth specializes in the education of Spanish-speaking students, an emphasis she explained is particularly rewarding because students can still retain their culture while learning to adapt to life with a new language. As a native Colombian who immigrated to the U.S. at age 18, she said that preservation of heritage is especially important to her.

“I can keep the culture,” Roth said. “That, for me, means the world, because they don’t lose their identity. They can keep their own culture, their beliefs and their customs. But at the same time, I can help them get used to life in this new country, this new place. I tell them they’re double citizens.”

Roth herself may soon be spending time in a different country. Representatives from the Spanish embassy attended the award ceremony where they told the teacher that she could attend any of the country’s universities for free and receive a master’s-level degree as part of a month-long program for foreign students.

Roth said she wasn’t exactly sure what set her apart from her peers, but thought that the committee might have noticed her dedication to bilingual teaching and her love for everyone in the education community.

“I think it was the passion that I have for bilingual education,” Roth said. “And I think everyone can see the love I have for these kids, their parents and for the district.”

Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks said Roth’s passion is apparent and the district is lucky to have her in its classrooms.

“Luz’s belief in her students and colleagues radiates in her smile and optimism about the future,” Hicks said. “She is such a positive difference maker with everyone she meets and we are so proud that she is building Bearcats in Sherman ISD.”

Roth will compete for the National Bilingual Education Teacher of the Year title in February when the National Association of Bilingual Educators hosts its 2016 award ceremony in Dallas in February.