This spring, University of Arizona Athletics will continue their tradition honoring a local grade school teacher in southern Arizona as their 2024 Teacher of the Year.

Good Morning Tucson is introducing you to the nominees this year, including Cristina Parks at Cienega High School.

Cristina Parks teaches early childhood education at Cienega, with a real life application. There’s a preschool right next to her classroom.

“It’s great,” Parks explained. “So right after we learn a concept, they get to actually go apply it to real children, which I think is the best learning model possible.”

Through her program, students are now graduating, fully prepared to get their certification to actually teach preschool.

“This is our first year doing it,” Parks said. “And we have we have about 10 kids on track for that.”

For Renata Vazquez, a junior at Cienega, Mrs. Parks and her class have become a reason to go to school.

“I love how caring she is. She always puts herself out there for others,” Vazquez said. “She’s always trying to do everything to make you feel better and comfortable in this class, she always gives you a safe space to come to. This class definitely helped me find my passion, which is kids, and I definitely want to work with kids.”

Principal Kim Middleton says it’s that connection that makes Mrs. Parks one of a kind.

“She takes responsibility for pushing her kids every single day to do the very best that they can, inside and outside the classroom,” Middleton said.

And Mrs. Parks wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t think I could ever not work with students,” she said.

The University of Arizona will announce their teacher of the year at their home game on March 2nd.