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Fort Worth ISD Names 2023-24 District Teachers of the Year

Kimberly Bennett Named Elementary Teacher of the Year

Kimberly Bennett was the same age her students are now when she started helping create her first classroom.

She spent the summer after her fifth-grade year with her teacher, who recognized that Bennett didn’t have a good home life. Bennett was in the classroom with her teacher, helping her prepare for the next school year.

Bennett already knew she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up — she told her fourth-grade teacher as part of a class project — but that summer showed her the labor of love that teaching is. 

It’s that dedicated passion and love that helped the Springdale Elementary fifth-grade math and science teacher earn Fort Worth ISD’s 2023-24 Elementary District Teacher of the Year award.

Bennett’s fifth-grade teacher, who took her in over the summer, taught her a lot about caring for others and how rewarding it is, a lesson she said she never forgot.

“I knew that I wanted to give back, because I know there are children out there in my same situation,” Bennett said. “So that's why I wanted to become a teacher.”

Since her teaching career started, Bennett has navigated changes in education with grace and compassion for her students. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, Bennett found unique ways to engage students and learned new social emotional learning skills to help the children in her classroom.

When students returned to the classroom after the pandemic, Bennett said she found herself struggling to connect with students as well as she used to. She and the counselor on campus started working on positive behavior intervention and trust-based relationships to help her connect with kids.

Bennett knew she had to be the one to make a change for her kids to be successful.

“I started to learn a lot about social emotional learning and making connections with kids and families, and that has highly impacted how I teach,” she said. “It impacts how students learn. It impacts just the overall community in my room. The kids are just very open and honest with each other. There's no judgment. They encourage one another.”

Bennett also attended the Ron Clark Academy for professional development and brought back more tools to help all students learn. There are different hand signals she uses in math and science that help her dual language students. Her classroom is an active space. Kids are moving around, using the stage she set up, and writing on white boards.

For the past 24 years, Bennet has worked in education. It’s been a dream come true. Her next step will take her from the classroom to the office as she starts her Principal Fellowship program.

But before she leaves the classroom, she wants her students to remember positivity in middle school. 

“The impression that I want to leave on my students is that they are loved, they are cared about, and they matter,” she said. “They are unique and made in their own special way, and they can be successful in whatever they want to do.”

Elijah Ballesteros Named Secondary Teacher of the Year 

While Elijah Ballesteros was finishing his undergraduate degree at Southwestern University, he worked as a chemistry teacher at Breakthrough Fort Worth, a summer enrichment program at Fort Worth Country Day.

It’s a summer he’ll always remember because his students grew in knowledge, worked together, won the spirit stick, and had a fun summer learning. Now, he teaches biology at O.D. Wyatt High School.

On the days teaching feels especially hard, Ballesteros looks back on that summer. He remembers those students, his North Stars. 

“I love teaching. I've loved teaching since I was a young boy, explaining to my friends how to answer questions,” he said. “I was able to be a Sunday school teacher in my church growing up.”

That boy who taught his friends and that young man who led Sunday school classes is the Fort Worth ISD 2023-24 Secondary District Teacher of the Year. 

Ballesteros grew up in Fort Worth ISD — in fact, one of his former teachers was also a finalist for the award. 

“I always appreciated the teachers who made learning exciting, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps and pay it forward to the next generation,” he said.

Like his teachers before him, Ballesteros had to find a way to keep students engaged in learning outside of school — even if the distractions are different now.

“Recently, a student asked me how to make the routine of life not boring,” he said. “Essentially, I urged him to put his phone down and pick up a book.”

Two weeks later, the student came back and said it changed his life. “Life feels good. Life feels meaningful now,” his student told him.

Ballesteros wants to keep advocating for students and families, specifically in the O.D. Wyatt community. 

“The impression I want to make on my students is having them feel loved and cared for in a safe environment,” he said. “When they leave my classroom, I want them to feel patience from me, to learn to grow, and a calming environment that whatever is happening in the hallways or at home, they can find a safe place with me.”

Students spending time with Ballesteros can rest assured that he’s enjoying that time. He’d spend all day with students at school. He said he loves getting to know them, their stories, and hearing about their lives. They’re the reason he gets excited about education.

And some days, he has to remember that North Star and get excited about education.

“This job is very difficult, and that took me a long time to admit,” he said. “The difficulty of time management, of classroom management, of underfunded classrooms, organization, sometimes within the campus or the district or the state level or the national level of education. But despite it being difficult, it's worthwhile. Our students need advocates. Our students need people who care. And so I would encourage anyone who is an educator, we need you to stay in the thick of it.”