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Nate Rios, left, and Ben Collinsworth were both selected as “Ambassadors for Excellence” for their work in the classroom.

The Flowing Wells Unified School District is the only school system in Southern Arizona to have a teacher rank as a finalist for the 2020 Arizona Educational Foundation “Teacher of the Year” award. But there isn’t only one Flowing Wells teacher in the final five, there are two. 

Nate Rios, an 11th and 12th grade government and history teacher at Flowing Wells High School, and Ben Collinsworth, a Pre-K literacy and STEM teacher at Emily Meschter Early Learning Center, are among the five finalists for AEF Teacher of the Year, known as “Ambassadors for Excellence.” 

“They’re kind of on opposite ends of the spectrum with the grades they teach, but they’re both dedicated to being teachers,” said Amy Collinsworth, Flowing Wells District Substitute Coordinator. “They’re both invaluable parts of their schools, and you can tell they’re both in the right fields for themselves.” 

Flowing Wells uses a special way of submitting teachers to the Arizona Educational Foundation. Every year, Flowing Wells hosts its own ‘Teacher of the Year’ in their district. Out of the teachers of the year from each school in the district, a committee selects three to submit to AEF. 

“Not only does Flowing Wells have a good professional development program because of this, but a really rich history of our Teachers of the Year coming in the top five and 10,” Rios said. 

Rios, who’s taught at the high school for 13 years, has always been a fan of government and history. When he was in eighth grade, he even won social studies student of the year. Rios also recently appeared in the documentary “Teaching in Arizona,” which examines daily life and struggles inside Arizona classrooms.

“I love government and history,” Rios said. “I have a personal goal to teach students who they are and where they come from… Teaching isn’t just about the content, but about caring for the students.” 

When Collinsworth first found out AEF selected him as a finalist, he kept re-reading the email subject line to make sure he understood it correctly. 

“Later, I found out that Nate Rios had also been selected and it was like celebrating all over again,” Collinsworth said. “I think the most exhilarating thing about being selected was feeling that the hard work of my Teacher of the Year application had paid off. I spent the summer working on it and it was truly one of the most excruciating writing experiences of my life. The AEF really does a great job of getting to the core of teachers.”

Collinsworth says he has always been passionate about reading, and how stories connect people. In his classroom, he’s happy to awaken the same passion for reading and writing among preschoolers. 

“I’m never prouder of my work than when I consider what it will mean in terms of my students’ lives, and the impact it will have on our community,” Collinsworth said.

Both Rios and Collinsworth say they feel the call as an “Ambassador for Excellence,” as it provides the opportunity to explain the importance of education and to share their passion with larger audiences. 

“Flowing Wells is definitely a district where people feel valued,” Amy said. “It’s a pretty small district, so it really has more of a community feeling.”

The other Arizona Teacher of the Year finalists are Sheila Rowe at Coyote Ridge Elementary in Glendale, Lynette Stant at Salt River Elementary in Scottsdale, and Taryn Tidwell at Shepherd Junior High School in Mesa. Finalists for the 2020 Arizona Teacher of the Year award each receive $5,000, an AZK12 Center Scholarship to pursue National Board Certification, professional speech and storytelling training, and they get to participate in the Fiesta Bowl Parade on a fire engine. The winner of the Arizona Teacher of the Year receives $15,000 and is selected as Arizona’s official candidate for the National Teacher of the Year award.

“They’re all really dedicated and involved in what they’re doing,” Amy said. “The Arizona Educational Foundation considers them the best of the best.” 

The finalist for the 2020 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Awards will be announced Oct. 24.

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