For a lifetime of improving lives

The Classroom Teacher, winter 2014-15

Rosbel Peña, 2014 H-E-B Excellence in Education Award Winner, Lifetime Achievement Category, Secondary Level

Rosbel Peña teaches sixth grade in much the same way that he coaches football, track and field, and basketball. He helps his students and his student-athletes learn the skills and strategies they need, and he expects them to work hard and give their all each day.

“I expect nothing but their very best,” says Peña, who has taught for the past six years at Alton Memorial Junior High in Mission CISD, where 94 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. “On the first day of class I tell my students that I expect them to be No. 1, even if nobody else expects this from them. Let’s prove all the naysayers wrong,’ I tell them.”

Like many of his students, Peña lived in poverty as a child, so he says he understands the challenges they face — and what it takes to overcome them.

“A life can change for the better with hard work and dedication to set goals,” he says. “I tell them, ‘Nobody can take an education away from you, so let’s work hard to earn those diplomas and college degrees.’ … Our students eventually understand and work hard to meet our expectations. … Our campus earned six distinction designations as the result of hard work last school year.”

Peña also received recognition in spring 2014 when he was named the secondary-level winner of the 2014 H-E-B Excellence in Education Award for Lifetime Achievement. The prestigious honor, which came with a $25,000 prize and a matching grant for his school, came after he won Region 1 Secondary Teacher of the Year in 2013. (He was also named Teacher of the Year for his campus in 2000.)

He says that while each of these honors has meant a great deal to him, the greatest rewards of his 22-year teaching career have been the one-on-one successes with students. “I take great pride in having helped a blind student experience the thrill of passing the state assessments and his classmates giving him a standing ovation as he learned he had passed,” Peña says.

“I am also proud of helping an autistic child garner academic achievement on the math TAKS after his mother had forewarned me that I’d be lucky if I get any work out of him. He not only worked, but he was nearly perfect on that state assessment. It gives me great pleasure that he eventually went on to graduate from high school in the top 10 percent of his senior class and made sure I knew of it.”

Still, winning the H-E-B award made an impact on Peña. “I will never forget the exhilarating feeling when my name was announced as the winner,” he says. And it has done much for his school, which has used its grant to provide anti-bullying and “Excellence in Education” T-shirts to students and much-needed instructional materials and supplies to teachers.

What could possibly follow an award for lifetime achievement in teaching? More teaching, of course. “I will teach as long as I am highly effective and can continue to touch lives in a positive way on a daily basis,” Peña says.

See also:

Connie Bagley, 2014 H-E-B Excellence in Education Award Winner