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Gabriela Peña’s family believes some teachers may just be born with a special gene. Her grandfather, aunts and uncle all became teachers working in Mexico and the United States, she said.

“My grandfather always said teaching runs in our family,” the Harlingen High School math teacher said. “I don’t know if that’s true. But I’m proud to be a part of a family that has been able to give back and contribute to education.”

Peña, a Los Fresnos and Houston native who has been working at Harlingen High School for eight years, received the Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction award from the National Society of High School Scholars, an international organization that recognizes academic excellence at the high school level in over 120 countries.

Peña earned the award as a result of a student nomination by HHS student Elora Ballejos. The Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction Award recognized teacher role models who have made a lasting difference in their classroom by encouraging students to strive for excellence, according to a press release by the NSHSS.

“When people ask me if I have any kids, I tell them I have 150,” Peña said. “I treat every child who comes into my classroom as if they’re my own.”

A shy, basketball player in high school, Peña has found a campus where she can be outgoing in HHS, she said. She enjoys the group of math teachers at the school who work together to provide the best lessons possible for the Cardinal students.

“People see teachers as baby sitters,” she said. “But it’s not baby sitting.  You’re more like an entertainer because you need to keep every class engaged. It’s difficult because you have different classes with different students who learn differently. You need to entertain them each differently so they can get into the lesson.”

Students and teachers can’t picture the math teacher full of smiles and laughs as being quite. But Peña said she forced herself to be more outgoing when she got into teaching because she knew it’d make her a better teacher.

“I just want to provide a safe, fun learning environment for all the students,” she said. “I know not every student has a safe or fun home, so I hope to provide that to them when they’re in my class.”

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