Sandra Lomeli didn’t speak English when she moved to the United States at the age of 15, but she credited both her mom and an ESL teacher named Mrs. Black for encouraging her to reach her goals under any circumstances.
Lomeli, now an English teacher at La Joya High School, is La Joya Independent School District’s secondary Teacher of the Year.
“(Mrs. Black) would always tell me that not knowing the language was not an excuse,” Lomeli wrote in her application for teacher of the year. “She told me that if I wanted to succeed I needed to let go of my fears and learn how to swim like the rest of the students. Although I only had her for one semester, she continued to push me the rest of my high school years.”
When Lomeli graduated high school, she had a full scholarship to junior college. She said she never saw Mrs. Black again, but the seed already had been planted. Mrs. Black is the reason Lomeli became a teacher after earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal and performing arts from the University of Texas-Pan American.
Lomeli’s mother always encouraged her to reach for the stars and had dreams of Lomeli becoming a nurse, so her daughter could take care of her in her old age. However, Lomeli’s mom also believed education is the best inheritance. Lomeli believes she’s doing her part by teaching the community’s future medical students.
“And the best reward you can get from this profession is when you see your former students following your footsteps,” Lomeli said. “So far, there are five teachers on my campus that at one point were my students and now they are my colleagues. It makes me feel old, but at the same time accomplished.”
Over the years, Lomeli has served as a UIL coach, a National Honor Society council member, a PLC member and a reading club member. She’s been a curriculum writer, a teacher mentor and a department chair.
Sometimes Lomeli feels like she’s her students’ mother, but Lomeli said she feeds off the younger generation’s youth and energy, calling it her “daily fuel.” Students need to see their teachers care about them, not a monthly paycheck, she said.
It’s important to be human and smile because students will remember how a teacher makes them feel.
She uses her own story and her own success to show students anything is possible. Many students in the area are pushed to get involved in illegal activities like human smuggling or drug trafficking, and Lomeli said her goal is to show them the same importance of education that her mother instilled in her.
“There is no better accomplishment than to see my students receive their graduating diplomas and their college acceptance letters, especially when they come back to ask for letters of recommendation,” Lomeli said. “That there, is the greatest feeling in the world.”