Autumn Rivera, who grew up in Eagle County, named Colorado Teacher of the Year
Glenwod Springs Post Independent
The news that Sweetwater Lake is to become a state park was a huge victory for Autumn Rivera, who grew up in Eagle County, graduated from Eagle Valley High School and whose Glenwood Springs Middle School students led the charge for preservation nearly two years ago.
But it wasn’t even Rivera’s biggest win of the week.
Without explanation, the sixth grade science teacher was escorted out of her classroom Friday afternoon by her students and principal Joel Hathaway. She was taken to the school’s media center, where Colorado Department of Education and Roaring Fork School District staff, friends, family and students current and past awaited her.
Rivera was named the 2022 Colorado Teacher of the Year.
“I’m still in shock, but I was just so grateful that I got to share it with students,” Rivera said. “I’m excited but it’s a little overwhelming.”
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An enthusiastic, modern educator and advocate for teachers, Rivera has long been recognized as a leader in the community. Her colleagues come to her for advice, regardless of tenure.
Her students say she makes class fun; she uses TikTok videos and computer games to engage them.
She seemingly appears in several places at once, serving on multiple boards and somehow still finding the time to develop and maintain relationships with students long after they move on from her classroom.
“Once you’re in her crew or her circle of influence, once she’s wrapped her arms around you, she doesn’t give up,” Glenwood Springs Middle School Principal Joel Hathaway said.
Her tirelessness, whether it be teaching either at the middle school or at Colorado Mountain College, where she is adjunct faculty, co-chairing the Yes on 5B campaign, leading professional development and mentorship efforts for Roaring Fork School District or serving on any of the numerous boards she does, is going to be tested even more.
Rivera not only has to complete another application process to compete for the national Teacher of the Year award, but will serve in the Colorado Education Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet. She’ll speak at events as the face of teachers in Colorado and appear at a ceremony at the White House and attend NASA’s Space Camp next year.
It’ll elevate her platform for one of her biggest passions: advocating for teachers, especially rural ones.
“It’s going to give me a louder voice,” Rivera said. “To know that a winner comes from rural Colorado is just awesome, because rural teachers are working hard and doing amazing things, and I love that it’s going to be celebrated.”
Former students Andre Garcia and Allie Allred — who spearheaded the Sweetwater Lake fundraising push in 2019 — spoke at the ceremony.
“What I love about you, Ms. Rivera, is you treat me like a human being and not some kid,” Allred said in her remarks. “When I suggested we try and save 500 acres of private land and make it public, you never turned me down. You never said we couldn’t. You just said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And we did it.”
To which, Rivera responded, “And we did it. Now it’s a state park,” to the applause of the audience. She grew up near Sweetwater Lake, telling the Post Independent in 2019, “That’s where my childhood was.”
The timing of the two events made both even more special, she said, crediting her students for the success of the Sweetwater Lake campaign.
“It’s so awesome to have this award come at the same time because we’ve been working hard,” Rivera said. “I just love that I’m able to empower my students, and it’s recognized in my students and in myself.”
Rivera is the first Roaring Fork School District educator to win the award since Basalt High School’s Leticia Ingram in 2016.
She followed in the footsteps of her mother, who also instructed at Colorado Mountain College and taught science. She has master’s degrees from Colorado College in Teaching Secondary Science and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs in Education Leadership.
The ceremony was livestreamed on the Roaring Fork School District’s Facebook Page.