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Student works to bring award to the teacher who turned his life around

Gabriel Holguin, 17, left, walks with his inspirational teacher Manuel Mendoza on campus at Gadsden High School in Anthony. (Source Courtesy of Honored.Org)

Gabriel Holguin, 17, left, said he was so impressed with how his teacher Manuel Mendoza at Gadseden High School in Anthony, N.M., inspired him to do better in school that he successfully nominated him for national award.

Manuel Mendoza is seen teaching a class at Gadseden High School in Anthony, N.M. He was recently named a top teacher by nonprofit and will received $5,000 award. Also, an 1,800-word article about him, written by an editor of the L.A. Times, published April 1 on the organization’s website.

Gabriel Holguin, 17, left, walks with his inspirational teacher Manuel Mendoza on campus at Gadsden High School in Anthony.bright spot

Seventeen-year-old Gabriel Holguin’s high school career got off to a rocky start.

A resident of Vado, Holguin had an enthusiastic middle school teacher who’d sparked his interest in becoming a teacher someday. But he found the transition from middle school to high school was rough.

He’s from a single-parent home, and his mom was working a lot to support them. At school, he didn’t know how to succeed. And he quickly became discouraged. At the end of his freshman year, he had a 1.8 GPA, well below average.

But a teacher Holguin met that year, Manuel Mendoza inspired a major turnaround in his life. And now, thanks to Holguin, the 58-year-old Mendoza, a Spanish teacher at Gadsden High, is being recognized nationally for his dedication to students.

Mendoza has taught for more than two decades at Gadsden High; it happened that he also taught Spanish to Holguin’s mother, uncles and aunt when they attended the same school.

At first, Holguin said, he wasn’t engaged much in Mendoza’s class. He said his teacher went to great lengths to get lessons across. He sometimes brought food, such as breakfast burritos, for students on testing days to make sure they were well energized. And Mendoza began encouraging him to improve his grades.

“He won’t take ‘no’ as an answer; if you’re not doing his work, he’ll push you and push you until your do your work,” Holguin said. “He’d go to every one of my teachers to see how I could get my grades up. He gave his time up after school so he could tutor me.”

By the end of the year, Holguin’s GPA was still low, but he felt like he’d turned a corner. Thanks to Mendoza, Holguin said, he felt more encouraged and optimistic.

This semester Holguin is attending Alma d’Arte charter school in Las Cruces. He’s a senior set to graduate with a 3.6 GPA.

Holguin credits Mendoza, who still teaches at Gadsden High, for having the inspiration and the tenacity to keep him going through difficult times.

Mendoza was born in Mexico in 1960, one of 11 children in his family. He attended grade school, and a teacher in third grade believed she saw potential in him. She called on him to substitute teach math to his school’s kindergarten or first-grade class from time to time.

At first, Mendoza said, he was unsure about the proposal. But his teacher guided him through the process. And he loved it.

In December 1974, his parents moved him to the U.S., and his lack of English skills put him at a disadvantage.

In 1996, Mendoza began teaching high school Spanish and AP Spanish in the Gadsden Independent School District. He has held the job ever since.

A few months ago, Holguin was researching colleges when he stumbled upon Honored, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit whose main mission is to recognize teachers for the positive work they do. Holguin decided to submit Mendoza’s name for consideration.

Karen Sonneborn, co-founder of Honored, said Mendoza’s principal gave a glowing review. And Mendoza was selected as the April award recipient.

“He goes above and beyond,” Sonneborn said. “We’re so excited to give him this honor.”

Honored will also issue a $5,000 check to Mendoza. It’s unrestricted, so he can spend it as he chooses. And an 1,800-word article about him, written by an editor of the L.A. Times, published April 1 on the organization’s website.

Sonneborn said people wanting to nominate a teacher can do so at

Student thanks Gadsden teacher for turning his life around

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