The Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico awards up to seven teachers from around the state with the Golden Apple Excellence in Teaching Award each year. To highlight this year’s winners, each awarded teacher is coming onto the set of New Mexico Living to dive deep into what inspired their teaching journey.

One of 2023’s award recipients is a teacher at the Nye Early Childhood Center in Santa Fe, Tara Hughes. The award-winning teacher emphasizes the importance of early childhood education and the role it plays in the trajectory of students’ lives.

Hughes got her start in teaching by running the stage crew at the Santa Fe Opera. She then worked as an educational assistant for a preschool for neurodiverse children. “Those children changed my life,” says Hughes. “They showed me that every child is capable and that every child and family deserves the same opportunities.”

Hughes uses the “power of play” to focus on engagement and connection in her classroom. Celebrating diversity within the teaching environment is one of the most impactful ways in which Hughes caters to each child’s learning style and makes each individual feel important.

The Golden Apple awards rotate every three years through the three major school levels: elementary, middle, and high school. Teachers are recognized in a variety of subjects, including STEM subjects, physical education, special education, advanced placement courses, and more.