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A Rochester educator is being recognized by the National Education Association for a commitment to equity, diversity and her work engaging the Century High School community.

Natalia Benjamin, Minnesota's 2021 teacher of the year, was one of five educators who last week received the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence in Washington, D.C.

Benjamin, who teaches English as a second language, was nominated by Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union. The national union then assesses nominees based on their leadership inside and outside the classroom and their commitment to equity and diversity.

The union also judges nominees on their engagement with the school community and their supportive efforts on behalf of fellow educators.

"Natalia stands out in all of these categories," NEA spokesman Andy Grabel said.

Benjamin told NEA she pursued a career in education because it closely ties to her identity. She also calls it "important work for our future generations."

"It's more than just work for me," Benjamin said in an NEA video.

In the same clip, students praised Benjamin for her approach to teaching. Century High student Abdullahi Aabi said she caters to students individually, recognizing her pupils' needs.

"She'll have a lot of different ways for you to do something," Aabi said.

Century High student Ema Sofia Barragain Dominguez said Benjamin treats every student who walks into her classroom with care.

"She loves everyone and thinks they're amazing, helps them and wants to help them think outside the box," Dominguez said.

Benjamin was born and raised in Guatemala. A native Spanish-speaker, she attended a French school in the country's capital city, where she began reading and writing in that language as well.

She began learning English in middle school and continued that pursuit through high school. Benjamin attended Brigham Young University and is finishing out her seventh year teaching English at Century High.

Before her arrival in Minnesota, Benjamin taught foreign language classes to elementary students in Idaho. She was a substitute teacher and paraprofessional in the Rochester district before she began teaching full time.

Benjamin was the first person of Latin American descent to win Minnesota Teacher of the Year.