SAN ANTONIO — This week’s EXCEL winner is not one to play by the book. But it’s her unconventional methods that got attention and admiration at North East ISD.
Vanessa Kerr has been teaching for six years.
"Here's this child who went through so much than I've ever had to go through and he walks in my door every day with a smile."
Mason Martinez was about to begin second grade when he first met Ms. Kerr. It was a meet the teacher day that almost never happened.
"I was shocked when his mom told me he had just been diagnosed with Leukemia and that he could not be on campus. It hit me and broke my heart,” Kerr said. "We kept his desk there, we did video chats with the class, we raised money to donate to the Leukemia Lymphoma Cancer Society in his honor. I went to his house on my many occasions."
It wasn't until two years later after his recovery from Leukemia that Mason landed in Ms. Kerr's 4th grade classroom. By then, they had already formed that special bond.
"I was watching him on the playground, and he was just running carefree, and it kind of hit me this child is strong and resilient," said Kerr.
It's also a testament to Kerr's compassion and commitment. Although, her own journey to the classroom wasn't a straightforward path.
Kerr was 32-years-old, married with kids and without a college degree when she decided teaching is her destiny.
"School just got put on the back burner for my children so I could be with them. When my youngest was off to kindergarten, I started thinking about my aspirations and going back, and had to get over that fear of being an adult in college."
Kerr went on to graduate from college. She was actually the first in her family to receive a diploma.
Today, her love for teaching ripples across Royal Ridge Elementary, which is just one of the reasons she is nominated for our KENS 5 Credit Human EXCEL award.
"She's such a wonderful wonderful person inside and out " said Principal Jana Carter-Freeman, "Her peers here at Royal Ridge unanimously voted for her to be teacher of the year."
And Kerr leads by example. She is the brain behind Birdie's closet, a haven for kids who need her most; a place they can receive food, clothes and shoes.
Kerr said she was inspired to create the closet after a conversation with her grandmother who insisted on helping.
"My first year at Royal Ridge, I realized there are students carrying around heavy weights with them. It would be not having a snack, not having shoes that fit, maybe not having a jacket. And when they don't have those needs met, it's hard for them to learn,” said Kerr.
The kids even get to shop inside the closet, and if they're not shopping there, you'll find them at "H-E-B" learning about money; she transforms her small space into a makeshift store.
Northeast ISD Superintendent Dr. Sean Maika says Kerr inspires everyone because, "she creates real life connections for kids that are so valuable."
In Kerr’s classroom, you’ll never know what you’ll get. One day, it could be Krispy Kreme, or the other Starbucks. But one thing is certain — Kerr is never afraid to reach out for help.
"Krispy Kreme donated the hats. Various H-E-B's gave me signs to borrow. I've worked with Starbucks and they donated cups. "
Kerr says as long as their classroom time is memorable, she’s willing to go to great lengths. And every minute of hard work is worth it.
If you would like to donate to Kerr’s Birdie’s Closet, they’re taking new clothes, shoes, and snacks all of which go to the kids who need it at Royal Ridge Elementary.
You can email Kerr at email@example.com
Related links on KENS 5: