Carol Calderon, a third grade teacher at Heritage Elementary in Southside ISD, (left) and Dorothy Cardenas, an elementary dyslexia therapist at Olympia Elementary in Judson ISD. Credit: Courtesy / Trinity University

Capping off Teacher Appreciation Week, teachers from Southside and Judson Independent School Districts learned Friday evening they were the winners of the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Teaching, a prestigious award that recognizes outstanding San Antonio educators.

The winners were Carol Calderon, a third grade teacher at Heritage Elementary in Southside ISD, and Dorothy Cardenas, an elementary dyslexia therapist at Olympia Elementary in Judson ISD. A panel of judges chose the two from among 17 finalists from area school districts and the Winston School, a private school for students with diagnosed learning differences.

As winners, Calderon and Cardenas receive a $2,500 prize.

Calderon is a longtime Southside ISD educator who has taught at Heritage Elementary, located in far South San Antonio, since 2007. Previously, she worked at Harlandale ISD’s Rayburn Elementary and at Bexar County Charter School.

The Southside teacher grew up in Corpus Christi and said college wasn’t in her plan until she took a job at a daycare center, where she found a passion for working with kids.

“There I was, 19 years old and ready to take the world by storm! No college, found a great job, driving a fancy car and making lots of money. That was the plan,” Calderon wrote in her application. “But there they were! Those kids, my kryptonite, my weakness. As I worked with them, I felt transformed, changed, molded to the person I have become, a TEACHER.”

Calderon enrolled at San Antonio College and later at the University of Texas at San Antonio, graduating in 1999 with her bachelor’s degree. Two decades later, she still feels a passion for education, working with third graders who have special needs.

“I have several autistic students, students with speech concerns, students with learning disabilities, dyslexia, behavior concerns, reading far below grade level and so many other challenges they face every day, as well as home living situations,” she wrote. “I make sure these children get the same chances as others receive. I build their confidence, self-esteem as well as their academics knowledge.”

In a recommendation letter, Calderon’s principal, Elise Puente, writes that Calderon thrives in a challenging setting and “has a way with kids that no one else has.”

Cardenas, the winner from Judson ISD, works as a dyslexia therapist at Olympia Elementary in far Northeast San Antonio. Before that, she worked as a fourth grade teacher, reading facilitator, and second grade teacher in Judson ISD and as a first grade teacher in Medina Valley ISD.

From an early age, Cardenas knew she wanted to be a teacher. In her senior year at Taft High School, she participated in a mentorship program that allowed her to choose a future profession. Without hesitation, she selected education.

After completing her undergraduate studies at Texas Lutheran University, Cardenas became fascinated with reading and worked to specialize in the area in her future teaching jobs. For the last 10 years, she has worked to help students with dyslexia “celebrate their hard work, perseverance, and growth in reading,” she wrote in her application for the Trinity Prize.

“I believe that the first step is ensuring that students feel valued on a daily basis,” Cardenas wrote. “I strive to establish a relationship with every child and ask each student to tell me about their strengths and interests.”

She also works with parents and mentors other teachers on how to identify students with dyslexia.

Olympia Elementary Principal Karli Sitton remarked that Cardenas is always willing to take on additional responsibilities and goes “above and beyond to foster student success, morale, and community.”

Before the winners were announced, 2019 National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson from Virginia addressed the more than 100 virtual ceremony attendees. He spoke about his journey to become a teacher at a juvenile justice detention center and emphasized the impact teachers have on their students.

Last year, San Antonio ISD teacher Andrea Greimel and Fort Sam Houston ISD library media specialist Katie Michna won the Trinity Prize.

Disclosure: Rivard Report editor and publisher Robert Rivard was a judge of the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.