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A Warm Welcome to Rocha

Posted 11/11/2021 by Jessica Nesbit

Mr. Rocha enjoys teaching his students. photo by Shana Saint-Phard

A former Spartan is making his return for the 2021-2022 school year

Mateo Rocha joins Thomas Jefferson High School’s English Language Acquisition (ELA) team. Rocha teaches ELA-S, meaning that he works with predominantly native Spanish speakers in his classes. The three courses that Rocha will be teaching are English 1, English Language Development 2, and ELD Seminar. The emphasis in these classes is that Spanish and English are used interchangeably in order to help students further their comprehension and acquisition of English. 

The ELA program at TJ helps students with varying levels of English comprehension. Rocha will be working with both kids who speak English as a second language their whole life and kids who have only arrived in America a mere month ago. “The trait that is shared among all students in my classroom is that they are bilingual,” Rocha explains. The goal of this program is to foster confidence in communication, with the main focus on academic English language development rather than conversational English, which Rocha believes comes easier. Another job that Rocha will be seen doing this year can be observed in the math department, where he will collaborate with math teachers to ensure that native Spanish-speaking students will succeed in an English-based math class. 

Rocha decided to become a teacher because he “saw a need in the multilingual communities here in Denver for bilingual teachers.” He also feels that “[having] the perspective of an immigrant is an advantage when working with multilingual students and families.” Rocha immigrated from Colombia at a young age. From 2012-2018, Rocha studied at the University of New Mexico and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics and Latin American Studies and a minor in Hispanic Linguistics. While attending university, Rocha had the opportunity to study abroad in Brazil and travel to Colombia and Mexico. When he is not in the classroom, Rocha enjoys “[running] with my dog, training handstands and cartwheels, skateboarding (for life!), playing guitar, and doodling from time to time. In my near future, I would like to study a greater variety of martial arts and dance forms.”

Bilingual students, especially Spanish-speaking students, make up a large population of the student body at TJ. By ensuring that students whose first language is other than English can succeed in English-speaking classes, The ELA department at TJ helps to make sure that the diverse population can maintain an equal playing field in education. Learning to communicate in English effectively will in turn allow them to communicate and express themselves to teachers and peers which is imperative to the success of students in the ELA program; this helps students have greater confidence in speaking both academic and social English. When students graduate from the program, they will be prepared for classes that are not centered around acquisition but rather more abstract concepts such as critical thinking and problem-solving skills in English. 

Rocha graduated from TJ in 2012. Some things that he reflects fondly on are “Messing around with my friends and skateboarding outside of TJ.” When reflecting on his high school experience, one word of advice that he wished he knew as a high school student was, “You don’t have to wait till you grow up to start working towards [your] dreams.” Now that he is a teacher, Rocha supports his students’ dreams by working to create an “environment of learning.” When contrasting the perspectives of being at TJ as a student versus a teacher, Rocha reflects on his relationship with the campus. Returning to TJ, Rocha says, “[It’s] an amazing opportunity to grow at the same place that I was at originally.” He says that talking to teachers who were once his teachers is awkward, “only until we break the ice.” When asking Rocha to describe his new environment, he states, “I just appreciate the mentorship,” and “I am inspired by the staff and students; I am very happy to be where I am.” 

On top of the classes that Rocha will be teaching at TJ, he is also the new coach of TJ’s Speech and Debate team, just in time for the 2021-2022 tournament season. Rocha will be in charge of the team’s logistics; he will sign students up for tournaments, organize meetings, and potentially host events at TJ. Speech and Debate is an after-school activity and an official CHSAA sport. The club is also a chapter of both the National Speech and Debate Association and the National Forensic League. TJ’s Speech and Debate Club is excited to welcome him to the team in hopes of a great season.

Rocha’s ideologies will be a great addition to the ELA staff. He will be encouraging ELA students to achieve their dreams in a new language throughout this school year. TJ is excited to welcome his return as a teacher among our staff as a fellow TJ Alum.