SAN BENITO — With each passing year and new set of students, Nelda Cruz makes sure to go above and beyond for her classroom.

As a kindergarten teacher at Judge Oscar De La Fuente Elementary School, Cruz says her teaching techniques and style go hand-in-hand.

From making sure her students get the extra help they need while learning new material to reminding her students how proud they should be for being bilingual, Cruz’s ultimate goal is to help her students become successful and be productive people in society.

“I just want the very best for each one of my students,” Cruz said. “I want them to be prepared for the future.”

On June 23, Cruz was named the 2020-2021 Bilingual Teacher of the Year by the Rio Grande Valley Texas Association for Bilingual Education.

Cruz was nominated for the award by Judge Oscar De La Fuente Elementary School Assistant Principal Dr. Camille Cavazos.

“I feel very honored and blessed to be considered as a nominee for this position,” Cruz said. “When they mentioned my name, that I had been selected for the award, I was full of emotions. I was so glad I was able to take my husband to witness this moment with me.”

Cruz said she felt a rush of emotions when she received her award and quickly shared the good news with her children.

“They’re so proud of me and that’s so good for me because anything and everything I do is for my family,” Cruz said. “My husband and my children have been my strength so I was very emotional when I was sharing it with my children.”

Cruz describes her late father as someone who was pro-education.

“He was very big in helping other people, especially when it came to education,” Cruz said. “I’m sure that if he’s in heaven, he’ll be proud of me.”

Cruz completed her 29th year working in education with San Benito CISD this school year.

The first five years of her career began as a paraprofessional in early childhood education.

Initially, Cruz always wanted to become a social worker so after being a stay at home mom for eight years, she decided to return to college.

As she progressed in her studies, Cruz applied for a paraprofessional position at Dr. Cash Elementary School with the late principal Mary Alice Saenz.

“She hired me and gave me a chance to work there and I just fell in love with my job,” Cruz said. “It was in early childhood and I just loved working with little minds and watching them have their aha moments.”

For Cruz, it felt good seeing the students understand what they were learning.

“I just fell in love with it, but by this time, I was really ahead in my degree plan so I decided to finish that one first,” Cruz said.

Cruz graduated in 1996 with a major in sociology and a minor in psychology from The University of Texas at Brownsville.

“After that, I applied for the alternative certification program for teachers where I was accepted and able to pass all of my tests,” Cruz said. “Here we are 29 years later and I’m still teaching.”

Cruz said the advice she would give future educators is to be the teacher they want their child to have.

“Being a child nowadays is so hard. We cannot begin to understand what a child carries in their heart,” Cruz said. “You might be the only one that helps this child in the day. So they need to learn how to reach their child and their needs and make an educational prescription for them.”

Cruz said she’s had a wonderful career in teaching and wonderful co-workers and principals.

“We have a lot of teachers across the Valley that are worthy of this award so it’s a big honor for them to have chosen me to receive this,” Cruz said. “It’s a very extremely big honor for me to represent the RGV Texas Association for Bilingual Education.”