‘Amazing’ teacher makes learning a family affair

Weeks before school starts, Sonia Galaviz knocks on doors in the neighborhood. She is relentless about meeting every family that will be a part of her fifth-grade class at Garfield Elementary School in Boise.

Some of her parents work nights. Others are divorced. Some are homeless and in deep poverty, lacking the appropriate resources to care for kids. Others don’t speak English in the population’s diverse tapestry of race and ethnicity.

None of that matters. Galaviz will meet them all before the first day of school.

“I don’t know how to do my job without the families,” she said. “It’s a blessing to get to know them and hear their story and how I can best teach their student. It’s a partnership.”

Sonia Galaviz 2
Sonia Galaviz has been teaching fifth grade at Garfield Elementary for three years. She’s been an Idaho teacher for 11 years.

Every home gets a refrigerator magnet with Galaviz’s cell phone number. Everyone is welcome to call her any time.

“I have kids in the fourth and sixth grades and I’ve never had a teacher reach out and want to do a home visit and give us their email and cell number,” said Natasha Rush, whose daughter spent last year with Sonia. “She’s amazing. She’s fantastic.”

Sonia said she is a better teacher if she knows where students come from, the condition of their home and the family dynamics. She tells parents and guardians they can expect frequent assignments that require parent-child interaction. These assignments are not graded homework. They are tasks to engage a family in the child’s education.

The assignments include:

  • Week 1: Ask your mother about the day you were born and write an essay on what she said.
  • Week 2: Ask your father what he thinks about the civil rights movement.
  • Week 3: Ask your parents about someone in the family who has passed and how that affected their lives. Summarize what you learn.

“In my house, it opened up conversations between a fifth-grade girl and her father,” Rush said. “The two would end up having long conversations about historically relevant events when otherwise they may not have spoken all evening.”

Galaviz’s passion and commitment is so widely acclaimed in her profession that the Idaho Education Association is using the committed union member prominently in a new campaign.

“She is an amazing educator,” said Dave Harbison, the IEA’s communications director.

“What I do I do out of love,” she said. “For seven hours a day, I take the place of a parent. I take that very seriously. I strive to be the influence on my students that I desire for my own two children.”

Galaviz’s background

Galaviz got her drive and thirst for education from her father, even though he had very little education.

He came from a migrant family of 14 and was picking cotton by the age of 3. He dropped out in the eighth grade to work. Her mother also dropped out of middle school to care for a younger sibling. Yet they encouraged their children to stay in school.

“Education was second to none in my family,” Galaviz said. “I’m a lifelong learner to honor my family and so their sacrifices were not in vain.”

Galaviz grew up in North Idaho where her family owned a nursery. She graduated from Kellogg High School before moving to the Treasure Valley to attend Boise State University. Her parents now live on 10 acres in Caldwell.

“When I have a problem, I call my dad and he’ll ask me to think about serving others in order to find my path. He says, ‘If you know better, do better,’” said Galaviz.

Originally, Galaviz wanted to work as a lobbyist for underdogs. But she changed her mind during a summer volunteer job teaching family literacy to migrant workers in Caldwell. While they learned English, she learned to speak fluent Spanish.

“I had an awakening during that experience as to what reading and writing could mean to that community,” said Galaviz. “It could make all the difference in their lives. I knew I wanted to teach from then on.”

The passion she has for education will be handed down to her own two teenagers, Max and MacKenzie. While a single mother, Galaviz earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from BSU. She’d take her babies to class when necessary. She is working on her doctorate in curriculum and instruction and the Galaviz trio has “homework night” where two teens and mom study together.

“I hope to follow my mother in her footsteps and be as dedicated to my education as she is and be as successful and driven as she is,” said MacKenzie, a junior at Boise High School. “My mother has taught me that education is all about challenging myself.”

Galaviz’s fifth-grade class

Students sit in clusters instead of rows, their desks positioned to face each other. The kids work in collaborative, conversation-based teams. They seek options and answers together instead of independently. She calls it “community-based learning.”

“She’s phenomenal,” said Garfield Principal Daryl Gerber. “She goes way above and beyond to make connections with her kids and their families. She gets buy-in with teamwork.”

She’s a huge fan of math and science so she builds those concepts into other subjects.

“Everything is connected,” Gerber said. “She incorporates all subjects into every subject with hands-on learning.”

Galaviz doesn’t aspire to be an administrator. She wants to teach children — especially Idaho’s most disadvantaged children.

“I’m one of those people who believes teaching is a calling.  I’m all in,” she said.

Sonia Galaviz photo
Sonia Galaviz with her children, MacKenzie and Max