Ana D. Gonzalez, executive director of Teach for America-Rio Grande Valley

As a former teacher, I know just how much impact educators have in every child’s life.  

Growing up, I loved school and always felt this sense of excitement to meet my teachers every year. I vividly remember my very first day of kindergarten, when my mother walked me down what seemed to be an endless walkway.  

I could feel the south Texas heat beating down on me, and I could barely fight back the tears swelling up in my eyes as my heartbeat raucously pounded in my chest, ears and throat. In spite of feeling excited, I had this anxiety and so many questions in my head.  

Would my teacher like me, take care of me? Would she make sure that I would learn what I needed to learn? Would my teacher value me and my dreams even though I was mostly speaking Spanish?” 

My mother was my first teacher. She taught me many things: my name, to read and write, to say my ABCs and how to count. I had high expectations for my teacher. I wanted and needed her to be like my Mom. As we neared the open door to what would be the beginning of my educational journey, these final questions also emerged, “Would my teacher be someone who loves me and nurtures me?” 

The answer to all those questions that I had  and that every child has – whether they are entering kindergarten, the sixth grade or the 12th grade  should be a resounding YES! All children deserve an excellent education. All children in our community have endless potential. This is something we have known in the Rio Grande valley for a long time. As champions for kids, we have committed to ensuring that our students have access to opportunities that will change their life trajectory for generations to come. 

This is also at the heart of Teach For America’s mission. Unlocking potential, fueling talents, and working with others to build pathways for the next generation are our key goals. Recently, classrooms across the Valley commemorated Teach For America Week. This is our annual opportunity for our organization to join forces with members of the community in support of students. We know that every child has unlimited potential and that together we can ensure that each student receives the shot they deserve. It takes bold leadership to do that, and it begins in every classroom with educators who believe in their kids and who empower them to pursue big dreams.  

But it cannot end there. Nearly 30 years in, what we at Teach For America have seen is that the work begins in the classroom but  also requires the efforts of school and district leaders, parents and family, civic organizations, elected representatives and business owners to support students in finding their place in the world. We are thankful to be part of a community that puts children first and works together with this in mind. 

This community partnership can be seen year round, and is at a peak when we come together to bring incredible and diverse guest teachers into our Valley schools to teach a lesson for our students. During Teach For America week elected officials, attorneys, business executives, higher education leaders, journalists and many other role models to engage with our phenomenal students. Teach For America Week raises awareness about our mission and connects our students to different careers and opportunities, which keeps them centered on their academic experience and hopes for the future. We are deeply grateful to all of our community leaders for their time and wisdom. By working together, we can ensure that the next generation of leaders in the Valley are set up for a lifelong pathway of success.