SAN ANTONIO — Every morning Mrs. Jaime Frias greets her high school students walking up and down the hallway.
"I love seeing the kids. I love greeting them, I love their smiles."
But if you ask her students, she is the reason school is a happier place and the hallways are brighter.
“Just seeing her around campus every day is so uplifting,” said High School Senior Cheska Pangilinan. "You may be having a difficult day then you see Mrs. Frias happy and optimistic and you're like oh my day is getting better.”
On Tuesday, her students returned the affection with just as much enthusiasm, helping us reveal a surprise that left even an always prepared speech teacher short of words.
“I don’t know what to say. To all my speech kids, practice your speeches, I didn’t know this was coming.”
Frias couldn’t believe she was being honored with the EXCEL award. She was nominated by the Northside Independent School District.
Her family surrounded her as she accepted the award.
“Tears of joy,” her mom said, “very proud of her. She’s my baby.”
Her sisters, husband and daughter were there and everyone agrees, "She’s always been very energetic, hard worker, dedicated,” said her sister.
But the one man who inspired her most was missing.
“My dad, my dad is my biggest inspiration.”
Frias says her father passed away earlier this year. She says he is the reason she is successful today.
“He would be very happy standing here,” Frias said. He taught her dedication and hard work, “he said always remember your words, always be better, always do better. Always strive to do better and make a difference.”
Frias has spent 18 years in education. She's gone from teaching Theater Arts, and Special Ed to now teaching speech and the UT OnRamps Dual enrollment course at NISD’s Communication Arts High School.
“It's dual enrollment,” Frias said, “they're enrolled here and the students have the potential to earn 3 hours credit of visual performing arts through UT.”
Students like Senior Alex Kubon who says he feels better prepared for college.
“She has a good curriculum laid out for us. This class is really rigorous. It's like a college class. We can see exactly what we're going to be doing.”
But the most important lesson Frias says is not on the computers or in the books, it's out in the community.
"This year we did a drive for Northside Threads, collecting socks and undergarments. At Westover Hills, we've been doing that for 3 years now. We play bingo or if residents are doing occupational therapy, we help with that.”
Frias leads multiple clubs where she and her students go out into the community on the weekends to help those in need.
“I tell the kids it doesn't have to be a huge project that takes a monetary value. We make cards for our Veterans Day breakfast. we do a big teacher thing for teacher appreciation week.”
And as she continues to give back, her husband who’s also a teacher, says her award comes as no surprise.
“Honestly, she’s been Teacher of the Year twice and now this. And I’m like ok she’s setting the bar, I think she won!”
Perhaps it’s her students who are winning after all.
“Even if you’re close with a teacher, you might have one bad day or one bad experience,” Said Alex, “I’ve never had it with Mrs. Frias.”