Winning the KENS 5 SACU ExCEL Award for the Medina Valley Independent School District brought fifth-grade teacher Kristen Bendele to tears at LaCoste Elementary.

All 700 students at LaCoste Elementary were in the cafeteria for the moment Bendele was handed the award and a check for $1,000.

Bendel teaches English and Language Arts to fifth-grade students. Every student is greeted with a hug by Bendele when he or she walks into the classroom. The warm embrace reinforces Bendele's goal for each student.

“I want students to come to school wanting to learn, to feel safe and to go away being a better person, a better somebody," said Bendele.

This is her seventh year teaching and elementary school is where she wants to be.

"Oh, I get to be a kid myself! I love to have fun with the kids," Bendele said.

"She's always so excited about everything. She can make anything exciting. It's so much fun to have her as a teacher," fifth-grader Angelina Chapa said.

"When we do stuff, she always makes it fun and a little bit challenging," fellow fifth-grader Kalel Rodriguez said.

Bendele grew up attending Medina Valley ISD schools and always knew she wanted to be a teacher, like her mother.

"I wanted to pay it forward not only to the community but the people that helped navigate my way in education and be able to pay it forward to their children," Bendele said.