LA JOYA, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A Juarez-Lincoln High School teacher’s passion for education was recently recognized by his students who nominated him for a $5,000 award.
The students, who have now graduated, would be happy to know that their former teacher has won.
Daniel Villanueva, a technology and engineering teacher at La Joya Independent School District, was awarded the prize by an organization named Honored, a non-profit dedicated to keeping teachers in the classroom and inspiring a new generation of talent to pursue teaching.
“Sometimes you wonder as a teacher if you’re doing a good job, if you’re reaching the students, if they’re learning–and [this award is a] good validation that they are,” Villanueva said about receiving award. “I’m happy that once they leave, they’re taking something with them.”
The engineering teacher has worked at Juarez-Lincoln for eight years and has left a mark on many students during his time there. Aside from teaching engineering, Villanueva coached the robotics team, baseball team and girls soccer.
As the fifth child of 15, Villanueva’s education after high school had to take a backseat to other things happening in his life. For years, Villanueva helped his father run the family convenience store before going back to migrant farming, picking cherries and strawberries in Michigan.
Eventually, the teacher decided to begin working temporarily at a bank, providing information technology services. The temporary job turned into 20 years for Villanueva.
He found that many ex-teachers would begin working at the bank. Villanueva would ask them for advice on their previous profession and expressed that he was interested in teaching.
He said he was often hit with negative comments from old teachers who gave students a bad name.
“They would tell me it’s not worth it … and I wondered if it was really that bad,” Villanueva said.
Once he began substituting, Villanueva found that students were nothing like the former teachers had described. He fell in love with teaching and sharing life lessons with the youth.
His philosophy on education is rooted in his passion for helping.
“I think [the students also take away that] just because I didn’t go to college right out of high school, I could still go to college later and graduate and become something else if whatever I’m doing right now is not working,” Villanueva said.
The teacher said being nominated by his own students has validated his work.
“I think they get the sense that I care for them even though I may be hard on them,” Villanueva said.
The district said Villanueva has helped turn a previously underperforming school into a B-ranking campus with STEM offerings and a transfer rate of 250 students this year alone.
Villanueva said this will be his last job and hopes to continue teaching many more generations of learners.