‘Most innovative’: Los Fresnos teacher tapped for Noble Texas Builders award

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LOS FRESNOS — Patty Hernandez, a freshman-sophomore math teacher at Los Fresnos United, part of Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District, has been honored with the Most Innovative Teacher Award by Noble Texas Builders.

Hernandez, the first recipient of the new award, took part in the 2023 Summer Noble Teacher Externship Program, a 10-day, hands-on course aimed at giving teachers an insider’s view of Noble’s construction operations, workforce needs and career opportunities. The idea is for teachers to take what they’ve learned back to the classroom and share it with their students.

During a brief ceremony on Thursday at Los Fresnos United, Dr. Juan Chavez, Noble’s vice president of leadership development, said the members of the 2023 summer cohort were invited to apply for the award by submitting evidence of how they applied the knowledge and skills they absorbed from the externship.

A selection committee made up of Noble team members and subcontractors evaluated the teachers’ presentations, which were delivered Jan. 24 at Noble headquarters in La Feria, he said.

“Their presentations highlighted their efforts in fostering school-community partnerships, cultivating a culture of continuous improvement, utilizing problem solving skills to navigate educational changes, and addressing the skills gap between academia and industry,” Chavez said, adding that Hernandez’s presentation “stood out far above the rest.”

Noble President and CEO Rene Capistran said he was awed by Hernandez’s presentation.

“Ms. Hernandez took the problem-solving class to another level,” he said.

Capistran said he started Noble’s teacher externship program because of the workforce challenges his and other industries face.

“We have a problem in our industry,” he said. “We cannot get enough students to come into our industry as we once did, and it’s a challenge. Our industry is booming. There’s so much happening, and we need more engineers, more architects, more construction managers.”

Capistran said he did some problem-solving of his own and arrived at a root-cause analysis. He realized that the large amount of money Noble was spending on university scholarships each year wasn’t going to solve his problem, and that he was “looking in the wrong direction,” Capistran said.

Teachers couldn’t very well communicate the needs of industry, and the career opportunities, if they didn’t know about them, he reasoned. The externship program was born.

“There’s a gap there,” Capistran said. “What if we could take those teachers and plug them into industry? How cool would that be?”

The program started in Los Fresnos with the help of Superintendent Gonzalo Salazar. Last year it had cohorts from three schools, and this year six schools will be participating, Capistran said.

“But we also now have a hospital as a partner, and a bank, because it shouldn’t just be construction,” he said. “We’re going to scale up every direction. Next year we’re going to San Antonio. We’ve already got commitments up there.”

Noble’s program has gotten so much traction that the governor’s office called two years ago and put him in touch with the chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission to discuss scaling the program up statewide, Capistran said.

“The Workforce Commission has agreed to fund the program,” he said. “Our foundation paid the first few years. Now the state has agreed to fund the program. That’s an important thing.”

Meanwhile, no one is more deserving of the Most Innovative Teacher Award than Hernandez, Capistran said.

“Teachers have the greatest impact on students,” he said. “What you do every single day makes a difference. … We’re going to keep growing this program because the students deserve it.”

In addition to the award, Hernandez was presented with two checks, one for $1,000 as a personal reward in recognition of her accomplishment, and another for $2,500 to be used for classroom equipment and supplies.

Hernandez said receiving the award means a great deal.

“I can honestly say that my students benefited a great deal from me coming back with such passion, and my passion for teaching was reignited over those 10 days,” she said. “I came back ready to work, ready to implement new things in my classroom, and share those things I learned with my colleagues.”

Hernandez said she came back from the externship so enthused she couldn’t help but share what she’d learned with her fellow teachers.

“I’ve made every effort to recruit some of the teachers within my department to participate in the next cohort, because that will only strengthen us as a department but also benefit the students of Los Fresnos.”