Although hard work and dedication were means to obtaining the Region One Teacher of the Year award, Gilbert Villarreal said collaboration and support played a major role, as well. “Because without them, nothing would’ve happened,” he said, referring to his colleagues who helped him earn the prestigious award. Villarreal is a high school teacher at Hidalgo Early College High School, where he’s worked for eight years. He advises other teachers to always thrive for what’s best for students and the reward will come after.

Villarreal is one out of 11 siblings who grew up without a positive, male role model and whose five brothers never obtained a high school diploma.

Although he was raised in McAllen, he was relocated to Las Milpas with his family, which changed his entire aspect. He remembers difficult times getting to school on rainy days after busses would become stuck in the roads and students would have to be unloaded. He never lost hope and he always knew that it would get better, he said.

He graduated high school in Hidalgo with an athletic-academic scholarship and attended school for two semesters at the University of Texas – Pan American before serving in the military. While fighting in Iraq for 11 years, he pledged to himself to always return to his community and be the role model he always wanted in his family. He returned to his community after his service and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology with a minor in Biology. He then was hired at Hidalgo Independent School District, but his studies did not end there. He completed a Master’s degree in Kinesiology and is currently a few classes away from obtaining his second Master’s degree in Educational Leadership.

To Villarreal, being an educator is about doing what’s best for his community and earning the respect from his people. He wants both parents and students to know he is there to support them, as his colleagues have always been there for him. It was this revolving support which inspired Villarreal to help new teachers and students. He highly enjoys his job and is always finding ways to be a one-of-a-kind teacher.

His students are what make him drive to school every morning, he said, realizing that he could be a role model in their lives. He also loves to be challenged by helping his immigrant students, who have never taken an American course before, pass their STARR exams. But it does not end there, he can be found year-round at the campus, helping with summer school, assisting students with their ACT/SAT exams, preparing students for the world outside the classroom and making a difference in their lives for the better.

Villarreal has demonstrated to his students and fellow teachers how to act as a role model, but he believes he is only a messenger. He wants others to know that if he, coming from Las Milpas, is where he is now, anything is possible regardless of where a person comes from because that does not define or limit a person.