Cynthia Rodriguez in her Rio Rancho Middle School classroom. Her students may be surprised to learn, “I was the girl who couldn’t read.” (Gary Herron/Observer)


How do ya like them apples?

As in two of them: Rio Rancho Middle School teachers Ray and Cynthia Rodriguez may be in for a lot of kidding, now that each of them has won a prestigious Golden Apple.

Ray won his 10 years ago, when he was a special education social studies teacher at Lincoln Middle School, where he met and taught with Cynthia.

Cynthia recently won her Golden Apple, as a math teacher at Rio Rancho Middle School, where the couple teach, and where she’s been after eight years at LMS.

The Golden Apple Academy’s mission is recognizing outstanding educators in the state, with 15 applicants selected as finalists, then narrowed down through visits from the selection committee. (RRMS teacher Michelle VanSant was also a finalist.)

Winners receive a $4,000 grant for professional learning, a $1,500 cash prize and a Golden Apple award.

Rodriguez’s success as an educator once seemed unlikely, because when she was in elementary school in Las Vegas, Nev., before the family moved to Albuquerque in 1991, “I actually wasn’t taught to read… we were taught to memorize.”

After the family was in Albuquerque – her father had worked at Sandia National Labs for 43 years before a transfer to Las Vegas – she began learning the real way to read, treated as a special ed reading student from third through 10th grades.

“I was the girl who couldn’t read,” she said.

Cynthia didn’t read a whole book until her sophomore year at La Cueva High School, when “The Princess Bride” – the novel, not the movie – was the subject matter for a finals test.

“It’s still my favorite book,” she said. Now, “I’m a Harry Potter nerd.”

But her real love is teaching math to her eighth-graders, prepping them for the rigors of math next year in high school. She also teaches two high school algebra classes, earning those eighth-graders high school credits ahead of time.

She originally thought about being a cartoonist, and when she learned it’d cost her and her family $40,000 to enter a college specializing in that pursuit, she started at Central New Mexico Community College, CNM; then, TVI.

But only because she was good in math, and tutored a high school dropout during her first year at CNM, did she learn teaching was in her future.

After two years at CNM, she transferred to UNM, and after a year of student-teaching at Grant Middle School, was urged by someone at Albuquerque Public Schools to check into a job fair held by Rio Rancho Public Schools, and soon hired to teach at LMS.

She says when kids can understand equations, math gets easier. Getting beyond “that dreaded F word – fractions” isn’t that easy for kids, and the pandemic.

“COVID’s really been a downfall for a lot of gaps,” she said. Now, though, “They’re getting their groove on—a lot of them.”.

(There’s a third Golden Apple winner at RRMS: band teacher Donna Schmidt, who won while teaching at Desert Ridge Middle School in Albuquerque in 2018.)