The 2017 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence

Soñia Galaviz of Boise, Idaho, wins top honor at the NEA Foundation’s annual gala.

WASHINGTON, DC—February 10, 2017—On Friday, February 10, at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala in Washington, D.C., Soñia Galaviz, a fifth grade educator at Garfield Elementary School in Boise, Idaho, received one of public education’s most prestigious honors: The NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and $25,000.


(Left to Right): Soñia Galaviz, winner of the 2017 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence; Gary Phoebus, President and CEO of NEA Member Benefits; Penni Cyr, President of the Idaho Education Association; Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation.


“Teaching with courage is not the path of least resistance,” Galaviz said. “Without a doubt, it is a challenging journey that strengthens our intention to be the teachers we want to be, to take risks in the same fashion we ask our students to, and to elevate our classrooms to a station beyond the current trends and buzzwords.”

The NEA Foundation’s gala is an annual celebration of the men and women who work in America’s public schools. The NEA Foundation presented more than 40 awards to exceptional educators and dedicated supporters of public education. Galaviz’s award was the evening’s finale.

“Soñia has been selected for this award by her peers for attaining the highest teaching standards, as illustrated by her exemplary instruction, advocacy for the profession, and staunch support of public education,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “She provides students with important first-hand, experiential learning. She also creates a safe and engaging environment where students can explore learning opportunities in and outside the classroom.”

Galaviz has been teaching for almost 15 years. She served on the Nampa Education Association Executive Board and has held various committee positions. She sits on the National Advisory Board for Teaching Tolerance and received one of five national awards in Culturally Responsive Teaching from the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2011. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts at Boise State University.

Galaviz was nominated for the award by the Idaho Education Association and is one of 43 public school educators selected by their state education associations who were honored on stage by the NEA Foundation and its 900 guests.

She was also among the five finalists for the top award. Each finalist received special recognition at the gala, the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, and $10,000.

The other four finalists included:

  • Al Rabanera, a mathematics educator at La Vista High School in Fullerton, California, nominated by the California Teachers Association;
  • Melissa Ladd, a fifth grade educator at Poplar Road Elementary School in Sharpsburg, Georgia, nominated by the Georgia Association of Educators;
  • Stephanie Johnson, a second grade educator at HB Rhame Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina, nominated by the South Carolina Education Association; and
  • Carol Bauer, a fourth grade educator at Grafton Bethel Elementary School in Yorktown, Virginia, nominated by the Virginia Education Association.

The students of all five finalists also benefitted from the awards. In the months leading up to the gala, they helped create original videos honoring their teachers. Watch the video featuring Galaviz that premiered live during the gala on YouTube.

During the gala, the NEA Foundation also honored Global Kids with the First National Bank of Omaha Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education for its invaluable support for leadership development for underserved youth.

Victoria Rowell, an award-winning actress, activist, and author best known for her role in “The Young and the Restless” and her memoir, “The Women Who Raised Me,” hosted the event. Rowell founded the Rowell Foster Care Children’s Positive Plan, providing services to students in: fine arts, higher education, healthcare, financial literacy, reunification programs, cultural enrichment, and family supports.



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