Whether he's dressing up as a superhero for his kindergarten class or testifying in front of state lawmakers, Shelledy Elementary School teacher Rick Green has worked tirelessly to advocate for a better education for his students.
Green is one of seven finalists for Colorado Teacher of the Year, a Colorado Department of Education award that recognizes excellent educators.
Green started teaching in 1979 and has not wavered in his passion for education, said Shelledy Principal Cami Kidd.
Green still transforms his room for different lessons, turning it into a Native American long house near Thanksgiving and a tropical rainforest to learn about plants and animals in the spring.
When kindergarten teachers started using new teaching materials that featured stuffed animals this year, Green built a bed for a stuffed elephant and had his students vote on which color to paint it.
"It's always about the kids first," Kidd said. "He's always doing extra things to engage kids to the fullest."
Green's background is in child development, which fuels his love for teaching.
"I enjoy working with young children and giving them that first start, introducing them to things and being a positive role model for them because a lot of kids don't have a father around or maybe it's a dysfunctional family," he said. "Working with an assistant, it's like we show them what a positive relationship can be."
Outside of the classroom, Green has testified in support of full-day kindergarten at the state Legislature for the last five years.
Three years ago he started going in person, bringing half-baked cookies to hand out as a demonstration of how half-day kindergarten impacts students.
"What we were asking children to do in three hours a day was impossible," Green said. "I had to teach half-day last year and it really cemented for me how unfair it was, because I knew the kids were being cheated."
Green said he's thrilled about new funding for universal full-day kindergarten this year, but he's already refocused his attention on making kindergarten more developmentally appropriate for young children.
Green said he's watched standards for the youngest students get more intense, to the point of setting children up to fail.
"Not all kids are ready to read in kindergarten," he said. "We have mandates where we label kids as failing right off the bat."
Green's solution is to embrace the less academic sides of education as just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic.
"We need to let children be 5," he said. "We need to focus on socializing them, like so many other literate countries that don't start formal academics until first grade."