By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
She has been called a source of stability. An inspiration. An innovator.
For nearly two decades, Estela Valdez has been all of those and more at St. Cecilia Catholic School. Most of all, though, she has been a teacher.
“As a Catholic myself, I knew that I wanted a job that would allow me to nurture students at the intersection of academics and faith,” said Valdez, one of three recipients May 4 of the Diocese of Dallas Catholic Schools Office’s 2021 HALO Educator of the Year award. “It’s really special to be able to guide students through learning while helping them get closer to God.”
Valdez said that remains especially important to her because she decided to become a teacher for her own children, having three who have graduated from St. Cecilia.“Through St. Cecilia, I was able to instill values of faith in them while helping them grow towards higher education and now I get to continue to guide other children,” she said.
Valdez has taught at St. Cecilia for 17 years. Currently, she teaches middle school science as well as serves as the school’s assistant principal, STEM (Science, Technology, English and Math) coordinator and network coordinator.
“She sees her teaching career at St. Cecilia not as a job, but as a ministry,” said Lydia Torrez, principal. “She truly feels a calling to be here.”
Valdez was born and raised in Chihuahua, Mexico, emigrating to the United States in search of a better life as a teenager.
“At first, my father didn’t want to come so I started college in the United States alone. Eventually, my siblings began to migrate here as well,” Valdez said. “Once my first son was born, my father was encouraged to join us.”
Valdez was the first in her family to attend college, receiving a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson and a master’s degree in education and curriculum instruction from Grand Canyon University. She is currently studying at the Perot STEM Teacher Institute in Dallas and recently finished her Catholic School Leadership Certificate through Creighton University.
“Now my kids and my nieces and nephews are beginning to graduate college as well,” Valdez said.
Torrez believes Valdez serves as an inspiration to many students within the school community.
“As a Latina, she is an example to our students who come from first generation Latino families that anything is possible with hard work and perseverance,” Torrez said. “Giving up is not an option for her. She is persistent, creative and filled with optimism.”
Susan Yarger, who teaches middle school English Language Arts at the school, said teaching for Valdez is not only her vocation, but also her avocation.
“She is passionate about guiding others to reach their full potential and to feel good about their accomplishments,” Yarger said. “This applies to students, teachers, and all in the St. Cecilia community.”
According to Yarger, Valdez understands that students do not always come from families and situations where education is a priority.
“She takes it as a personal goal to help them all fall in love with learning,” Yarger said. “She is a cheerleader for all in the community, whether meeting a small goal or achieving a grand accomplishment.”