by H. Haveman
Brittany Toll is a beautiful person. Yes, she is the reigning Miss New Mexico USA 2011 and won the similar honor in 2005 as Miss New Mexico Teen USA. However, her beauty is not purely a result of her broad smile, white teeth, and pretty face. Brittany works as a pre-kindergarten teacher in Gallup’s Rocky View Elementary School. She volunteers, is a positive role model, and travels throughout the state to promote early childhood education. Brittany’s beauty, though obvious at first glance, is exuded from deep within through her generosity, values and passions.
Brittany was born in southern California and moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico in 5th grade. She participated in choir during middle and high school and as a high school junior was encouraged to get involved in the Miss Teen USA program. When she won the title for New Mexico she was surprised and humbled, but quickly realized that with her new role, she could help create opportunities to reach out and help those in need. While in college at New Mexico State University, Brittany was part of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, which further propelled her interests in community service and philanthropy.
As a senior at NMSU in spring of 2009, about to graduate with honors and a marketing degree, Brittany knew that Teach For America (TFA) was something she wanted to be a part of. In fact, it was the only job she applied for. TFA is an AmeriCorps program that trains highly qualified college graduates as teachers who are then placed in at-risk communities. There are 39 urban and rural regions throughout the country where TFA corps members commit to work for two years in order to improve educational achievement for the students they teach. Brittany was accepted into the program and placed in Gallup, her first choice. Despite the fact that her family moved to Colorado when she started college, Brittany wanted to stay in New Mexico and looked forward to living in a new part of the state. Of The Land of Enchantment Brittany says, “New Mexico has given me so much in education; I just want to give back.”
Teaching came naturally to Brittany in many ways. Education was something she considered studying at NMSU, but it turns out that her background in marketing and advertising have been very useful in the classroom. With two sections of eighteen four-year-olds each day, Brittany had to find a way to get them all on the same page, with a desire to listen and learn. During “Circle Time” at the beginning of each class, the students discuss the calendar and weather, but also review the rules and reasons for school. In response to the question, “Why do you need to learn a lot and have big brains?” Brittany’s students shout in unison, “So we can do anything we want to do!” Beyond the academic standards, her students are learning confidence, becoming invested in their own education, and gaining a hopeful outlook.
The rewards of teaching are countless. Brittany has seen her students blossom over the last months, opening up to each other, building relationships and developing life skills. It’s been a learning experience for the teacher, as well. Brittany has gained a sense of the vast range of children as far as interests, learning styles, and growth. Every student has his or her own strengths and abilities to which Brittany strives holding each individual accountable.
Now in her second year teaching at Rocky View Elementary, Brittany’s is a model classroom for the school district and she is a learning team leader for Teach For America. However, her positive influence is also felt beyond the walls of her portable classroom. Brittany has been volunteering as a mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for almost a year. She travels across the state to promote early childhood education and leadership as a strong female role model. She is raising awareness for the Susan G. Komen Organization and DKMS America’s Swab Drive – a bone marrow drive in which participants receive a kit in the mail, swab their cheek, and send the sample back. The results are kept in a national registry of potential donors who have committed to donating bone marrow if theirs is a match for a cancer patient in need. Brittany is also in the early stages of writing and illustrating a children’s book.
Her role as Miss New Mexico USA has, undoubtedly, provided a microphone and an audience for Brittany’s passions. Promotion for early childhood education will echo loudly in the months leading up to the Miss USA pageant in May when Brittany will compete in Las Vegas for the national title. She is confident, having gone through this process before as Miss New Mexico Teen USA. She’s looking forward to meeting new people and enjoying new experiences during the two-week competition. When it’s over, she’ll return to Gallup to finish up the school year with her pre-kindergarten students or, if she wins Miss USA, she’ll immediately fly to New York and begin her duties as the national titleholder.
Either way, the future is bright for this beauty queen. After teaching for three more years, Brittany plans to pursue a master’s degree in early childhood education or psychology. It’s sure that her passion for education and service will lead her to a plethora of opportunities. She’d like to travel and experience life in a different place for a while, but a return to New Mexico will always be on the horizon.