Alton’s Sammy Rivera returned to the district where he grew up to mold the minds that sit in the classrooms where he sat as a Mission CISD student.
The 2015 District Secondary Teacher of the Year is the product of a teen mother who escaped a life of drug trafficking and a man he never met. Rivera grew up in wood-framed house where he shared a bed with two brothers.
“I come from the same neighborhood as my students. I am a successful product of the Mission CISD system,” the Alton Memorial Jr. High teacher said. “I can relate and take great pride in being from the same background, neighborhoods and socio-economic status as the students I teach every day.”
After Rivera received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Texas – Pan American, he applied for employment with only one district — Mission CISD. He boasts being an Alton native and giving back to the same community that shaped him.
The robotics and UIL science coach has led students to regional championships and state and national competitions.
He said his upbringing has taught him to never limit himself, and he uses that in his teaching philosophy.
“I want my students to know that with their hard work and dedication, they can achieve excellence and belong with the best of the best,” the educator of seven years said.
Teaching students not to limit themselves or their teammates, is a lesson that will prepare them for life outside of school, Rivera said.
The science teacher began volunteering in the Mission CISD community in middle school. He helped his father with the Partners in Education program, he was part of the AmeriCorps Youth Harvest program. But it was Rivera’s grandfather that fueled his constant need to work and improve.
For Rivera, teachers are a special breed of people. And although he understands there are moments of doubt and defeat, he uses that to motivate him further.
“Be a testament in the belief that you are part of a bigger cause and do not doubt that your everyday struggles in the classroom are unnoticed or without reason,” the MCISD teacher said. “Your contribution to education is an integral part of the formula that grooms great scientists, doctors, presidents, leaders and future teachers.”
Rivera said he sets his expectations high for his students, and tells them to dream big. But he leads by example by also practicing a strong work ethic.
“My father taught me that anything is possible and that the love of a family is not only drawn through bloodlines,” he said. “My students are my family and for them anything is possible.”