Las Vegas special education teacher Juliana Urtubey was named the National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Urtubey received a surprise visit Thursday morning from First Lady Jill Biden, herself an educator, that aired on “CBS This Morning.” Biden brought the new National Teacher of the Year a bouquet of flowers and a thank-you letter from the president.

Urtubey teaches prekindergarten through fifth grade at Kermit R. Booker, Sr. Innovative Elementary School, where she is credited with developing strategies to meet the students’ academic, social-emotional and behavioral needs, according to a news release.

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She is the first Nevada teacher to win the award, officials said.

“I am strongly committed to leveraging our collective power to build educational spaces where all children may thrive,” Urtubey said in a statement. “By centering the strengths of our children and families, we create more just systems for all students, valuing their diverse cultural, linguistic, cognitive and experiential gifts.”

Urtubey has spent 11 years at the school, where she’s affectionately known as “Ms. Earth” for her dedication to beautify the campus with community gardens tended to by the student-led “Garden Gnomies.”

The council identifies exceptional teachers across the country, recognizes their effective work in the classroom, engages them in a year of professional learning, amplifies their voices and empowers them to participate in policy discussions at the state and national levels, according to the news release.

“Juliana Urtubey exemplifies the dedication, creativity and heart teachers bring to their students and communities,” Carissa Moffat Miller, the council’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Urtubey is the council’s first Latina National Teacher of the Year since at least 2005, officials said.

“Juliana is a dedicated educator who has fostered growth in her students and a greater connection with her community through her innovative school garden program,” the selection committee wrote. “She aims to lift up others, a true example of a teacher with an asset mindset who aims to help people see their own strengths.”

Disability Scoop contributed to this report.

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