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And the Teacher of the Year is...

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Seven judges from around San Antonio had one very tough decision to make. Who should be the 2012-2013 Harlandale ISD Teacher of the Year? After reading through all 22 applications from each school's candidate and having a lengthy discussion, they made their choice. This year's winner is Gabriela Ortega, Fine Arts Teacher at Adams Elementary.

On January 28, school district administrators snuck into the cafeteria at Adams ES to make the announcement. Ms. Ortega was on lunch duty when the surprise took place in front of hundreds of her students.

“I am very, very excited. It is really rewarding to see that my school and the district appreciate all the work I have been doing for not only my students but for my school, the district, and its community as well,” said a shocked Gabriela.

Ms. Ortega was only 11-years-old when her family came to the United States from Mexico. Growing up, she worked hard in school and earned several scholarships to attend the University of Incarnate Word to pursue her passion for art.

During college, Ms. Ortega worked as a teacher's aide at East Terrell Hills Elementary School and then joined Adams Elementary in 2009, a semester after she graduated. That is when she began the process of building the program from the ground up.

“They only had a music program so I had to build the program from scratch. Which is even more rewarding because it becomes like your baby and just to see the program grow and the students enjoy the classroom and say how time flies in the classroom because they have so much fun,” says Ms. Ortega.

The first year she did an art show for Adams, she says only about 20 people showed up. Now they cater for up to 600 people for their shows. She is proud to see the parental involvement growing.

“I would like to see every parent involved in the visual art of their child. A well rounded student is one that puts the fine arts to work. You cannot teach creative, it is something they get from every single art project, music project, and dance project they do.”

Ms. Ortega is more passionate, and even got a little tearful, when talking about the importance of teaching children the arts and where it can get them.

"I really, really believe in the fine arts,… Because of my academic achievements and art achievements I was able to get scholarships to go to college," she said, implying other students could achieve the same success.

Ms. Ortega also teaches another subject close to her heart. Besides drawing, painting, watercolors, ceramics, printmaking, sculpturing, music, keyboard and choir, Ms. Ortega tutors bilingual students to better prepare them for state testing. And as if that were not enough, she also serve as the coordinator of the annual district art show, is the Cultural Arts Parade representative for her school, and helped start an after school arts club with Communities in Schools.