Cesar Reyes’ fifth grade math and science classroom at Rufus C. Burleson Elementary School is full of life—literally. He is always looking for new ways to get his students excited about learning, and with fewer field trips available due to COVID-19, he has turned to Dallas ISD’s Living Materials Center to fill his room with butterflies, tadpoles, crickets and more. He had 11 chicken eggs incubating during math testing last school year, which hatched in the middle of a session and created a chorus of chirping to cheer everyone on.
Forming connections with students has been at the heart of everything Reyes has done since he first started teaching at Dallas ISD 14 years ago. He was inspired to become an educator after watching his aunts and uncles transform lives in various classrooms in Panama, where he started teaching college-level classes before moving to the United States. When he arrived in Dallas, Ignacio Zaragoza Elementary School had an open position for a fifth grade math and science teacher.
“I remember that clearly,” Reyes said. “That was my first elementary school job, and it was really tough that first year, but the principal saw something in me. I was good at it.”
He was so good, in fact, that he went on to help apply for a grant to pioneer personalized learning at Dallas ISD in 2015. Once Zaragoza won the grant, Reyes stepped up to pilot the program with students for two years and became an instructional coach to help new teachers incorporate personalized learning into their classrooms.
Over the years, he has continued to be a mentor and role model for new teachers and teaching students alike, whether at Zaragoza or at Burleson when he decided to transition to an ACE campus two years ago.
“Mr. Reyes is an amazing teacher with a heart of gold,” said Lonnie Russell, the principal at Burleson. “His students perform well on all math and science assessments, and visiting his class is always a delightful, engaging experience. He is a friend to many and has mentored a few of our teachers. Burleson is blessed to have such an amazing educator, who is an even better person.”
Reyes sponsored a weekly soccer club at Burleson this past year. He has three children of his own, and after seeing how much they enjoyed the sport and hearing interest from his students, he was determined to get the club off the ground. That first Friday, 30 students showed up, and they made do with a few soccer balls and cones for goals. Reyes went to Russell for guidance in securing more supplies, and they worked together with Dallas ISD’s Health and Physical Education Department to get everything they needed.
Unsurprisingly, the students loved every minute of it.
“The kids would come from all different grade levels, from second grade all the way to fifth grade,” Reyes said. “On Mondays we would have morning meetings, and all the conversations were about soccer. The girls were talking about soccer; the boys were talking about soccer. They had a blast, and it helped us build relationships with the kids. They got to see that school is not only about learning math or science, it’s also about having fun.”
The past few years have been especially challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Reyes has never stopped believing in his students’ potential. He is looking forward to creating memorable moments and transforming even more student lives this year.