This week, we surprised an outstanding teacher not with our EXCEL award, but with her family.

Denisse Hernandez knew the McAuliffe Middle School assembly was in her honor. The Rocket Band performed along with the mariachi band to celebrate Southwest Independent School District selecting her as the KENS 5 Credit Human EXCEL Award winner.

But she was surprised to see her mother, sister, and daughter there. It brought the eighth grade teacher to tears.

In her classroom, she uses current events to teach the past.

"It's hard to make middle school kids interested in history, so what I do is try to give them as many real-world experiences as possible," Hernandez said.

"Did the football players have a right to take a knee?" asked Hernandez.

"Yes!" her students answered.

"What do we call that?" asked Hernandez.

"Civil disobedience," they answered.

"We can’t make a law that says the football players have to stand up and say the national anthem because it's unconstitutional. It goes against our freedom of speech, our freedom of protest," Denisse Hernandez told her class.

"She makes it fun every day to come to class and learn. She uses things that are happening right now in the government and brings them here to explain, and uses them as examples," eighth-grader Isaac Gutierrez said.

Hernandez brings her own history to McAuliffe Middle School. She was a student at the school, herself, and it’s where she has spent her entire teaching career of 11 years.

"So when I see my kids here, I see me, I see my sister, my neighbors, my friends, so the connection that I build with my kids just comes naturally," Hernandez said.

"She knows how the community is, she knows how the students will act, she understands us,"
eighth grader Ryan Guerra said.

"Any time you think of our three branches of government, you always want to think rock, paper, scissors because who always wins? Nobody, because they're all equal and that's the way our checks and balances work," Hernandez said to the class.

"My favorite president is Abraham Lincoln and he said, 'Whatever you are, be a good one.' And that's what I tell my kids. Love what you do and be great at it.”

Just like Denisse Hernandez.