Rique Ochoa’s approach to teaching is simple: stick with what you love.
As an Alta High history teacher, Ochoa loves to tell stories. He loves to make history relatable to his students, and he loves to expose them to the experts in his field. That’s what has motivated him to teach for nearly 40 years, coach the debate team and establish a one-of-a-kind colloquium at Alta. It’s also the reason Ochoa has been selected as the Utah History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
“School has got to be fun,” Ochoa says. “I think one of the greatest mistakes history teachers make is they forget why they liked history in the first place.”
Ochoa likes to teach his students about World War II by sharing photos of family relatives who served in the war. He shares stories about the Great Depression by describing what his father experienced during that time. When he teaches his students the story of Paul Revere, he tells them about William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, two other riders who went farther than Revere but received none of the acclaim. Ochoa knows his students love details. They love to be able to relate to history.
To that end, Ochoa established a Social Studies Colloquium at Alta eight years ago so he could give his students opportunities to learn from other experts on history, from prestigious professors to Pulitzer Prize winners. Next year, Ellen Taylor, who won the Pulitzer Prize twice for history, is on the list of speakers who will come to the school.
“It’s just incredible,” Ochoa says. “It’s a very unique program and our kids just really get to participate and learn an awful lot more than they would any place else.”
Ochoa has followed other creative ways to expose his students to experiences they would not otherwise have. When he encountered difficulties getting his students to travel to various debate tournaments that required overnight stay, Ochoa established Canyons District as the host of one of the few available Tournament of Champions qualifying debate locations in the West.
Ochoa was selected as the Utah History Teacher of the Year by a committee of history educators, education professionals, and former winners of the Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year award. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a non-profit organization dedicated to history education through high school. As the Utah History Teacher of the Year, Ochoa is now eligible to be considered as the National History Teacher of the Year in the fall.
“Mr. Ochoa has been and continues to be a strong pillar of support for not only our Social Studies Department, but across the spectrum of our school,” Alta Principal Brian McGill said. “Since the inception of Alta High School, Mr. Ochoa has brought … a zest and passion for serving students inside and outside the classroom, serving in such programs as Debate and Academic Decathlon. He is an integral part of Alta High School, and we are fortunate to have him as a part of our faculty. He is most deserving of this high regard and honor."