St. Olaf College | News

Efforts to increase teachers earns alumna attention, award from Yale

Angelica Torralba-Olague ’05, a teacher at South High School in Minneapolis, has played a pivotal role in efforts to address the lack of teachers of color in Minnesota — and her work is gaining attention.

Angelica Torralba-Olague ’05, a teacher at South High School in Minneapolis, was recently featured in a Sahan Journal article for her work cultivating future teachers.

Torralba-Olague has been a leader in discussions on statewide legislation for education in Minnesota and has been pivotal in building South High School’s “Grow-Your-Own” program. “Grow-Your-Own” seeks to address the lack of teachers of color in Minnesota. More than one in three of the state’s public school students are children of color, while a mere 6 percent of teachers are. The program seeks to “grow” future teachers with coursework that get high schoolers interested in teaching.

As part of this program, Torrala-Olague teaches Intro to Urban Education, which focuses on American Indian education, Black Lives Matter at schools, and justice for immigrants and refugees.

“It’s truly creating an environment where students can be their authentic selves and can really thrive,” Torralba-Olague told Sahan Journal. “And the way to go about that is to really talk about, and teach about, uncomfortable topics that happened in our history and our current practices, and how do we dismantle some of those practices?”

Torralba-Olague’s time on the Hill helped her discern how she wanted to make an impact in the world. “St. Olaf really helped me to discover servant leadership,” she says. While on Global Semester, Torralba-Olague helped refugees and immigrants by teaching English, translating documents, and coordinating activities at a shelter for migrant women waiting for their asylum cases.

Torralba-Olague recognizes the power of supporting students through programs like “Grow-Your-Own” from her own experiences as a student. “When I was a student at St. Olaf, only 6 percent of students were people of color,” she says. “The support that I got from TRIO SSS and MACO [now the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion] was so critical to my mental and social health, especially as a person of color.” 

Torralba-Olague is gaining attention outside of Minnesota, too. She recently won the Yale Educator Award, an award where matriculated Yale students nominate inspiring teachers in their education. This year, the university honored 77 “outstanding educators from around the world who have supported and inspired their students to achieve at high levels.” Torralba-Olague was the only educator from Minnesota to win the award this year. 

Her favorite part of her job, though?

“I just really love that relationship that I build with students,” she says. “When they have an ‘aha moment’  — particularly about social issues. When they can call out and name and identify an inequity, and now they have language to talk about it and a process to address it.”