Kim Vazquez, a Spanish teacher at Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club near Denton, has been selected as the final 2011 recipient of the Texas A&M University Inspiration Award for Exceptional Secondary Education.
Teachers selected to receive this unusual award – believed to be the first of its type sponsored by any university in Texas – are nominated by one of their former students who are about to graduate from Texas A&M.
Vazquez will be recognized during commencement ceremonies at the university Saturday (Dec. 17) and be presented a certificate and check for $2,000. The teacher’s high school receives $1,000.
As a university known for valuing excellence, leadership and service, Texas A&M sponsors the award as a way of recognizing those values in the teachers who have inspired and challenged their students to excel, officials note.
Vazquez was nominated for the award by Lauren Pellino, who will be formally presented her bachelor’s degree in Spanish by Vazquez, a privilege normally reserved for the university’s president.
Pellino says she went from hating Spanish after taking a class in eighth grade to getting a degree from Texas A&M in Spanish because of the impact Vazquez had on her life.
“When I learned that I would have to have yet another year of Spanish in high school, I almost cried,” she said.
Promising herself she could get through it somehow by sitting at the back of the room, the first day of class a smiling Vazquez placed her in the front row of the class.
“In fact, my desk was right in front of hers,” she added. “They even touched. I was so horrified, I don’t even remember what Mrs. Vazquez talked about for the first 30 minutes of class.”
Pellino soon realized Vazquez actually cared about her students and was always asking each of them how they were and if they understood or had questions.
“As the year moved forward, I would run into her in the hallway in the mornings or during passing periods, and she always smiled at me and would ask how I was doing,” she continued. “I could be having an awful morning, and there she would be, chipper and inquiring about my day.”
Vazquez encouraged Pellino to apply for an early entrance college program at the University of North Texas.
“When I told her about my acceptance, she was ecstatic,” she said. “She made a squeal and did a little happy dance that I can still remember to this day, and I felt so proud of myself.”
Vazquez remained in contact, making sure Pellino knew she was special to her and offering support to the whole family when Pellino’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. “She cooked, she cleaned, she drove my mother to places she needed to go, and she kept tabs on me at the same time,” she said.
By that time, Pellino was a freshman at Texas A&M.
“I cannot think of a woman, educator, role model and second mother more deserving of this Inspiration Award than Kim Vazquez,” Pellino added. “I am only one of hundreds of students she has taught, and I cannot begin to fathom the support and encouragement she has shown to others over her career. Mrs. Vazquez inspires me, and I know she inspires every single student who walks through her classroom door.”