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Fox Tech valedictorian returns home to teach

Sierra Gonzales and Jennifer BenavidesThis year has been a homecoming of sorts for Sierra Gonzales. The 2018 valedictorian of Fox Tech High School returned to the same hallways this year to teach.


It’s full circle for Gonzales, who grew up in San Antonio ISD, attending Madison Elementary and Longfellow Middle School before attending Fox Tech Health and Law Magnet. A QuestBridge Finalist, Gonzales attended Princeton University, which paid all her expenses while she studied psychology.


“When I was going to college, I needed to get out of Texas,” she said. “I needed to branch out. I did.”


During her time at Princeton, she continued to stay in touch with principal Jennifer Benavides, who started at Fox Tech during Gonzales’ senior year. 


“She was always seeking and maximizing opportunities,” Benavides said. “I knew she would do great things.”


During one of her visits home, Gonzales told her former principal she was considering a career in education. And though at Princeton, where she met students from all over the world, Gonzales knew just where she hoped to teach.


“I knew I was going to be in SAISD,” Gonzales said. “Growing up, I really appreciated all of the programming of SAISD. There’s so much recognition for our students. I think that’s so important.”


Her last year of college was a whirlwind as she finalized both her undergraduate and Teach For America requirements. She completed her program, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Princeton, and earned her certification to teach math.


“My math classes were always my favorite,” Gonzales said. “I liked learning more. I didn’t mind if they gave me more math problems. I just find it very fun to work them out, kind of like puzzles.”


She is now bringing that passion for math to her geometry and Advanced Quantitative Reasoning (AQR) students. She says she focuses on making her classroom a safe space for her students emotionally and works on giving them a growth mindset. 


“I am really trying to push for all of my students to not give up,” Gonzales said. said. “Maybe you can’t do it now, but we are going to try, and I know you can get it because we can do hard things. I know some things are going to be easier for students and some things are going to be harder for students, but we can all do it. Maybe it will take different levels of effort and different levels of support, but we can all do it, and I want them to believe that they can do it, whether I’m there pushing them or not.”


As Gonzales adjusts to her own first year of teaching, having familiar surroundings has been helpful for her. Two of the three teachers on her team were there when she was a student, and having the support of the principal who has always believed in her has made a huge difference. 


“I was just really grateful to know I was going to have Benavides my first year of teaching because she was such a rock for me my senior year,” Gonzales said. “I still feel that in my first year of teaching that she’s not judging me; she’s here every step of the way, but to push me as well, and I super-duper appreciate that.”


Benavides said having a young alumna on staff helps relate content to students and their lives.


"She’s an amazing role model for our students,” Benavides said. “She looks like our students and has an education that gives us hope. She brings a different level of perspective. She’s able to enhance her teaching strategies because of that.”


As she continues to get settled into teaching, Gonzales hopes to expand into coaching next year. A three-time state qualifier in track, she said she looks forward to helping her students achieve in the athletic arena as well.


“Sports was my outlet,” Gonzales said. “If I had a bad day, I could push and give my all there. I just really look forward to now being able to coach my students to be their best in running as well.”


Benavides says she knows Gonzales will be great at coaching. It’s all part of the joy of getting to watch a young alumna thrive as she gives back to the community that raised her.


“I love having her here and being able to be part of her career as a mentor,” Benavides said. “It’s the best as an administrator that you could ask for. I’m looking forward to continuing to watch her as she takes on leadership roles on our campus.”

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