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Graebner Elementary teacher named statewide Rising Star in H-E-B Excellence in Education awards

hebGerardo Villegas Juarez, a fifth-grade teacher at Graebner Elementary School, was named this year’s statewide Rising Star elementary teacher in the H-E-B Excellence in Education awards. The honor was announced May 5 during a Zoom call organized in place of the contest’s annual banquet, a tradition modified by the coronavirus pandemic.


Villegas Juarez will receive a $5,000 check and a $5,000 grant will go to his school. When his name was announced during the virtual ceremony, he looked shocked.


“I did not understand the magnitude of this award, in fact, it is still hard for me to understand!” he said. “Seeing people like Matthew McConaughey and Eva Longoria on the Zoom call really help put it in context. I know for a fact that there are a million other people out there doing amazing things, and I am still in shock that I was chosen for this award.”


Villegas Juarez says the most rewarding part isn’t the money or the recognition for himself, but the fact that his school Graebner, was recognized.


“I was super proud of the video that H-E-B created,” he said. “It highlighted my school over and over again. I am incredibly proud of this district and my school. The only thing I wanted to do was make people who invested in me proud. Since I won, I am getting feedback from teachers who taught me in SAISD and they are super proud. That is the best part.”


Noemi Saldivar, principal at Graebner, says that having Villegas Juarez on her campus brings continuous joy to the school.


“He always speaks with passion and is constantly advocating for the kids,” she said. “He works from the angle of, ‘How is this decision ultimately going to benefit the students, benefit their learning.’ He is a problem-solver, a thinker and an advocate. His whole purpose is to be there for his kids and help them to gain the knowledge to access the opportunities that are out there.”


Villegas Juarez is a product of SAISD, and he is currently teaching at Graebner with one of his former SAISD teachers, Rhonda Garcia. The two have teamed up and this year, started the school’s first mariachi group.


“Teaching with Gerado makes me feel incredibly proud,” said Garcia. “I am honored to see my former student take the reigns as a fellow educator. As a teacher, it is truly remarkable to know that you have impacted one of your own students to a point where they want to inspire, motivate, and cultivate the future of our country. My heart is so full of joy!”


Villegas Juarez attended Nelson and Bowie Elementary schools, Irving Middle School, and then Jefferson High School before graduating from Fox Tech High School in 2012.


Created in 2002, the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards are designed to honor outstanding public school professionals and to thank them for their dedication and commitment. Through the program, H-E-B seeks to pay tribute to those educators who go the extra mile each and every day to serve their students and their communities and who inspire others to do the same.


H-E-B’s Excellence in Education Awards program has become the largest monetary program for educators in the state, spotlighting best practices and celebrating the passion and creativity of Texas educators.


“Mr. Villegas Juarez feels a huge responsibility to give back, and it is very evident in all that he does,” said Saldivar.


Teacher Awards are designed to recognize teachers and are based on the teachers’ passion and commitment to the teaching profession, innovation and creativity in the classroom and their professional growth and development.

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