SAN ANTONIO — Terrena Bernal does it all. As her colleagues like to say, “Bernal’s got this.”
The life of a fifth-grade teacher, despite all the fun times, is no walk in the park if you ask Bernal - especially during the pandemic.
"A lot of difficulties... The hesitancy in the beginning, but now that I've made it to the end, I wouldn't have traded it for anything else,” Bernal said.
She has taken challenging times and made them her own challenge to work harder, learn new ways, and teach a new grade at Southside ISD’s Heritage Elementary.
“ I was telling everybody winning the district teacher of the year was the only thing I really wanted because that put our name. I have my grandparents' last name and I put her name rooted somewhere so that things that they never got an opportunity to do. I'm able to honor that,“ Bernal said.
And now she has a new honor to add to her list of accomplishments.
During a special celebration in which officials from the school and the district were present, KENS 5 Anchor Sarah Forgany presented Bernal with the KENS 5 Excel Award which also included a $1,000 check from Credit Human.
As a child, Bernal was just as determined. She would take a VIA bus to school by herself every day all because she wanted to attend an elementary school on the south side.
"'Put me on the bus,' like, 'I'll do it.' So I rode the number 42 bus from the north side all the way over here with the Lighthouse for the Blind workers in the morning," she said.
Today her commitment goes beyond school hours. Her day begins at 7 a.m. and is supposed to end at 3:10 p.m., but that’s hardly the case. You’ll find her staying late hours to tutor students who need the extra attention and to help students prep for the STAAR. She also coaches kids to compete in academic bowls as part of their STEAM program and she was chosen to be part of the Accelerate Reading Committee, to help develop ideas to motivate children to read more.
“I believe what I wanted to do when I grew up and I knew that I wanted to be around kids because I love being around kids ever since I was little," she shared. "I wanted to be somebody that was consistent in their lives so that they could have somebody every day.”
Bernal juggles all subjects as part of teaching fifth grade. She likes to take a boring story and make it realistic.
“I like to make them feel as though they are living during that time frame, a part of the story, or thinking as an author,” she said.
And she never shies away from going above and beyond for her students.
"She gives us like awards or celebrations,” said one of her fifth graders. “And she goes and spends her own money on stuff.”
Cool stuff like a special trip to see the Spurs or making a TikTok video.
"The relationships I have with the kids... I try to take time to get to know everybody. I make time to go to their games. I've had kids invite me to birthday parties," Bernal said.
Bernal’s hard work and affection for her students hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Southside ISD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jodi Spoor said Bernal does an outstanding job motivating students.
“They're not working for a reward. They're working because she believes in them and they've begun to believe in themselves. She's giving the kids an experience," Spoor said.
It's an experience of a lifetime for some of the students but most of all, Bernal said they’re making precious memories.
"The biggest thing I hope they take away is that they knew that somebody cared for them and they knew that they were capable of anything," she said.