Recognizing Important Texans
National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15, 2023) is an important time to highlight the contributions of the Hispanic world to history, music, art, literature, and public education.
We believe to #TeachTheTruth, we must recognize and lift up the contributions of the wonderfully diverse population of our state, our country, and our world. This month, we’ll be highlighting remarkable Latino and Hispanic educators that we’re proud to call members.
Hispanic Heritage Month Lesson Plans
Want to bring National Hispanic Heritage Month into the classroom? Check out the free lesson plans and resources available to AFT members through Share My Lesson.
Event Spotlight: Dolores Huerta at #TribFest23
AFT: Reading Opens the World Initiative
Easy access to diverse books can change a child’s life, instilling confidence and curiosity. Across the country, AFT has put 1.5 million books into the hands of students, parents, and educators.
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Esmeralda Herrera-Teran has served as director of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Antonio E. Garcia Arts & Education Center since 2020. As a native of Corpus Christi’s Westside and a first-generation college graduate, she brings an insider’s perspective to the center’s mission: sustaining local culture while opening doors to opportunities in education and the arts, especially for underserved members of the community. Herrera-Teran has worked for the university since 2000, beginning as an administrative assistant and growing into new roles as she advanced her own education.
As director of the center, Herrera-Teran has played a pivotal role in realizing the community engagement and social justice goals of the Corpus Christi American Federation of Teachers. Because of her vision and dedication to the community, CCAFT has distributed books to the community, instructed future teachers and tutors, volunteered for food distribution, and assisted with community events. Furthermore, CCAFT’s collaboration with the West Side Business Association and the Coastal Bend Labor Council to host the annual Cesar Chavez Marcha was a testament to her commitment to humanitarian work.
The Antonio E. Garcia Arts and Education Center operates various programs that encompass academic intervention, school readiness strategies, health education, counseling services, and a strong emphasis on fostering the arts within our community. Through these initiatives, the center aims to reduce dropout rates among at-risk students, enhance college readiness, combat chronic health problems, improve mental well-being, build self-efficacy, and promote a sense of unity and cultural awareness.
Herrera-Teran earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, a master’s of science in counseling, and a master’s in business administration, all from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She has a husband, Ruben, four adult children, and eight grandchildren.
Dr. Rebecca A. Palacios
Corpus Christi Federation of Teachers
Dr. Rebecca A. Palacios is a National Teacher Hall of Fame inductee, a National Board Certified Teacher, and a leading expert in early childhood education. With over four decades of experience, she is a pioneer in the field of dual-language learning and specializes in curriculum planning and instructional design. Today, she is a senior curriculum advisor for ABCmouse.com.
In addition to being a founding director of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and formerly serving as its vice-chairperson, she is also a co-founder of the Texas National Board Coalition for Teaching and serves as its treasurer.
Palacios serves as a curriculum board member for Age of Learning, the leading education technology company that created ABCmouse.com Early Learning Academy, and she owns her own consulting business, Palacios Educational Consulting. She is the author of a family engagement book to be released in 2022, Being Your Child’s Most Important Teacher: A Guide for Families with Young Children.
She has presented at the local, state, national, and international levels on teacher standards, early childhood, STEAM, and dual-language/bilingual education. Palacios has been an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) member since 1976, and in 1987, she was Corpus Christi ISD’s first Teacher of the Year. She was also the first Latina to be inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame in 2014.
Her work continues through a number of avenues. Through AFT, she served on the initial ELL cadre that helped produce the Colorín Colorado website. Palacios also has a dual-language children’s book series in progress. You can read more from Palacios n AFT’s most recent The American Educator magazine, featuring her article, Family Engagement and Family Literacy, A Duo for a Strong School Foundation.
Palacios is the 2023 recipient of the James A. Kelly Award for Advancing Accomplished Teaching, to be awarded by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards this coming November.
Bastrop Federation of Teachers
Twenty-three years ago this month, Fernanda Torres started work as a custodian at Cedar Creek Middle School in Bastrop ISD. At the time, she did not speak much English.
This year, when school started, however, Torres was in the classroom as a first-grade bilingual teacher — still in Bastrop ISD.
“Fernanda is the epitome of working your way to a dream,” said Toni Malone, president of the Bastrop Federation of Teachers.
In her role as a custodian, Torres learned quickly that she enjoyed being around the students, and she excelled at connecting with them. Eventually, she transitioned into work as a paraprofessional, a role in which she saw firsthand the need for bilingual educators in the classroom. That realization, she says, is why she decided she needed to become a teacher.
In 2013, she worked up the nerve to return to school, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in education first at Austin Community College and then at Western Governors University.
“I spent my 40s in college,” she said with a laugh.
“Fernanda is the epitome of working your way to a dream.”Toni Malone, Bastrop Federation of Teachers
It took her eight years to complete the degree, with juggling her full-time job and raising her own children, but she did. In 2020, she taught her first class.
Torres relishes the opportunity to give emergent bilingual students a teacher they can relate to. One of the aspects of her job she enjoys most is the ability to inspire her students and their parents by telling them her story.
“If they can dream it, they can do it,” she said, emphasizing the attitude she hopes they walk away with. “‘If Ms. Torres can do it, so can I!'”
Outside of work, Torres is the mother of three children, all graduates of Bastrop ISD. One of the first things she did after graduating with her education degree was join the Bastrop Federation of Teachers.