Sixth through eighth grade students at Zamora Middle School learn first-hand from theatre arts teacher Guadalupe Torres-Saldana that getting into character means pushing through the unknown.

When I first started theatre I was completely inside of my own shell,” eighth-grader Loren Rodriguez said. “She helped me break out of it. She showed me how to express myself.”

“I’m going to push [students] to become better because the only way you’re going to overcome any fears is to push yourself to go through with it,” Torres-Saldana said.

With 12 years of working with children, she helps her students not only in the spotlight but also off the stage.

“It’s awesome building those relationships with some of these kids,” she said. “I start them in sixth and see them grow within three years. At first, they’re like, ‘not theatre, I’m shy,’ becoming more confident. And I love that about the fine arts.”

Her mentorship program means so much to these students. They couldn’t help but praise her as she accepted this prestigious award.

“Ms. Saldana is my favorite teacher,” eighth-grader Drayvan Williams said. “She’s like a mom to me and she’s just so caring. And I know she just deserves it ‘cause she’s just, like, amazing.”