Two unsuspecting teachers at Bonham Elementary School and Harlingen High School South received the surprise of their lives as administrators and students celebrated one of the highest honors for an educator at the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District.
On May 5, Bonham third grade teacher Amanda Zuniga and Harlingen South AP English III teacher Deborah Vaughn were named the 2015-2016 elementary and secondary HCISD Teachers of the Year, respectively. With their title, they will also be the district’s two selections for the Region One Teacher of the Year competition.
“What these teachers do every day is a calling; it is important work,” said Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos. “Amanda Zuniga began her journey with very humble beginnings and is now a very successful teacher. She represents the American dream, and she is a true role model for our children. Deborah Vaughn is well loved and respected by her students. She prepares her kids for post-secondary studies like none other. We are indebted to them and thank them for their efforts as they represent our district as the elementary and secondary Teachers of the Year at the regional level.”
At a very young age, Zuniga learned the importance of hard work and the difference that education can make in a person’s life. She was inspired to pursue teaching after she herself experience the positive impact that a teacher could have in a student’s life. Her fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, encouraged her to always believe in herself and to never give up.
“I’m very honored to even be considered for this,” said Zuniga. “All of the educators out there come to work every day with one thing in mind, and that’s to help our students to be successful and become world-class learners. I couldn’t have done this without my grade level; they’re a wonderful group of teachers. I learned everything from them and my students. They’re the ones who have helped me along the way. ”
A Harlingen High School South graduate, Zuniga began her career at HCISD in 2004 as a paraprofessional at Treasure Hills Elementary. There she received the opportunity to further her education and fulfill her dreams of becoming a teacher through a paraprofessional financial assistance program.
In 2008, she became the first in her family to graduate from college, and she began her teaching career at Bonham. Zuniga strives to make learning fun and memorable for her students through the use of technology, hands-on lessons, and collaborative learning.
“I always tell my students to take every opportunity that is out there,” said Zuniga. “It’s going to be hard work, but there are opportunities for them to be successful. If it wasn’t for HCISD, I wouldn’t be doing what I love.”
Vaughn has been an HCISD teacher for the entire length of her educational career – 39 years. Growing up, her family considered learning to be an ongoing and valued experience often times turning ordinary life experiences into lessons about geography, science, or literature, she said. Understanding the complexity of the role of an educator through her junior high teacher Miss Acevedo, Vaughn desired to become a source of encouragement the same way her teacher had been for her.
“I’m overwhelmed; this is such an honor,” said Vaughn. “I’ve had so many incredible mentors who have guided me along the way. It is such a privilege to work with so many people to take on this job of educating our young people. I encourage my students to compete and I try to get them to reach for top goals and this is just the icing on the cake to be recognized in this way.”
In her class, she reminds her students the world is a competitive place so they must prepare by working hard. Throughout her teaching career Vaughn has learned that in order to be a great educator one must posses compassion, resilience, and know that learning is a lifelong process.
“As ‘Vaughn’s kids,’ my students must work diligently and strive to achieve challenging goals,” said Vaughn. “I want them to learn something new every day, and I want them to go home at night and think about what they learned in class that day.”
She also emphasis that teaching doesn’t always come out of a book, so she is always on the lookout for those “teachable” moments to make every moment count.
Zuniga and Vaughn will compete with teachers from across Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata counties for the Region One Teacher of the Year award. The regional winners then go on to compete at the state level for the Texas Teacher of the Year award.