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Cabarrus County School teacher NCCAT 2023 Empower NC Beginning Teacher of the Year

Natalia Mejia

CULLOWHEE – Natalia Mejia, a teacher at CC Griffin STEM Middle School in Cabarrus County Schools, was named the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) 2023 Empower NC Beginning Teacher of the Year in a special ceremony at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Western Carolina University Thursday March 9th.

The award was presented for the fourth time, with finalists from across the state in attendance.

This teacher prioritizes relationships and notes: “students will not understand why their teachers are trying to hold them accountable if they do not realize that you have their best interest at heart.” This teacher believes it is extremely important for parents to be involved in their child’s education and that successful teachers must prioritize getting to know others and building relationships. She experienced 100 percent growth of her students in her first year of teaching.

NCCAT is thankful for the opportunity to celebrate the teaching profession, according to NCCAT Executive Director M. Brock Womble.

"Educators like Ms. Mejia embody what it means to be a teacher. She is committed to teaching and inspires her students to learn,” Womble said. “NCCAT salutes her and all the teachers being acknowledged at the NCCAT 2023 Empower NC Beginning Teacher of the Year Ceremony -- who are dedicated to the education and development of North Carolina’s children. NCCAT is thankful for this opportunity to honor the teaching profession tonight. We appreciate all who made it possible.”

The runner-up is Ms. Kirby Forbes, a Teacher at Lee County High School in Lee County Schools. This teacher is described as engaging and motivating. An administrator noted that this teacher breaks down the material to the smallest detail and then helps students build it back up to gain a complete understanding.

The 2023 NCCAT North Carolina Beginning Teachers of the Year finalists are:

Alexis Allred, Jackson County

Madison (Maddie) Baker, Catawba County

Ratasha Benton-Manley, Northampton County

Christian Boletchek, Roanoke Rapids

Izabella Botello, Iredell-Statesville

Karen Cardillo, Carolina Charter Academy

Jerico Carrillo, Guilford County

Katelyn Clarke, Pitt County

Breeana (Bree) Clayton, Henderson County

Jamie Conley, Brevard Academy

Kbira Filali, Pender County

Hannah Fitta, New Hanover

Kirby Forbes, Lee County

Samantha Fortner, Mitchell County

Kenna Gautier, Clinton City Schools

Emily Giardina, Chapel Hill Carrboro

Ariana Hunter, Rutherford County

Goodin Huss, Hoke County

Tonya McGill, Cumberland County

Natalia Mejia, Cabarrus County

Sabrina Moore, Mount Airy City

Gabe Patton, Johnston County

Darbie Rash, Ashe County

Nancy (Beth) Rose, Wayne County

Maria Sutton, Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (NEAAT)

Amber White, Rowan Salisbury

Carly Wright, Thomasville City Schools

The NCCAT Beginning Teacher of the Year will receive:

$5,000 cash prize

Participation for the winner in a GoGlobal NC trip in 2024

Instructional supply funds for the teacher's school


$2,000 cash prize

Finalists will receive.

Travel expenses and substitute costs for regional finalists to participate at NCCAT.

More information about the program is online at

Thank you to these sponsors of the event




Burroughs Wellcome Fund

Dr. and Mrs. Jim and June Causby

Connection IT

Harrah's Cherokee Casino


Great Minds


North Carolina State University College of Education Scholastic Education Solutions

Western Carolina University: College of Education and Allied Professions

95% Group


Appalachian State University Reich College of Education


Campbell Shately, PLLC


Pierce Group Benefits

Schwartz Law, PLLC

University of North Carolina Greensboro: School of Education


NCCAT supports teachers and impacts students with high-quality professional development. Increasing teacher effectiveness is fundamental to improving public education. NCCAT provides teachers with new knowledge, skills, teaching methods, best practices, and information to take back to their classrooms. For more information about NCCAT’s professional development programs, visit or call 828-293-5202.