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Jessica Chavez, a long-time teacher at La Promesa Elementary in Veguita, is known for helping all her students, the community and fellow teachers.

“I just love my community and will do anything to make my kids successful because their voices do need to be heard.”

That’s the voice of Unsung Hero Jessica Chavez, a third-grade teacher at La Promesa Elementary School in Veguita.

Chavez has been teaching at La Promesa, part of Belen Consolidated Schools, since it opened 22 years ago. She has taught kindergarten through fourth grade.

“It is family oriented — for the students,” is how Chavez describes the education environment. “The majority of our teachers are from the area, within five miles.”

The nomination for Unsung Hero award came from fellow La Promesa teacher Jana Adams, who calls Chavez “a big mentor.”  Adams has seen Chavez in action for nine years.

“She is always a big help,” Adams says. “Adjusting things as needed, lending a hand to other teachers, the students and community.”

Adams says Chavez “has a passion for helping and advocating for her students no matter the distance.”

One of Chavez’s passions involves the high number of students who come to La Promesa as Spanish-first speakers. Chavez works to make sure those students receive materials they need, “advocating for testing and other materials in Spanish so that all students are learning to the best of their ability.”

Chavez says 45 to 50 percent of students at La Promesa are Spanish-first speakers.

“They deserve what any other kid gets,” Chavez says. “If we get papers in English, they should get them in Spanish. When it comes to test taking, their data should be interpreted from their side, not be mixed in with the other tests.”

Chavez admits it has been a difficult fight but there have been great successes, especially when the school had a bilingual program and when students are placed in inclusion classes.

“I had the English-speaking kids learning Spanish and the Spanish-speaking kids were learning English,” she said. “The kids really liked it. That’s where they learn the most when you integrate them with English speaking kids.”

Adams says Chavez is always advocating for students and their families.

“She recently received a huge order of Spanish books and curriculum,” Adams says. “Students are always at the forefront of her mind, making sure families are involved.”

Chavez has been a member of La Promesa’s Guiding Coalition, the school leadership team, although retirement is on the horizon next year. She has handed those responsibilities off to a younger teacher.

Her hands have been involved with numerous after-school activities, such as basketball games, father-daughter dances and winter festival. She also helped spearhead Multicultural Day.

“In each class, students would learn about a specific country,” Chavez explained. “Each student gets a passport to visit three countries and taste the food. Our music teacher provided the music, the dance and song for each of the countries.”

Even though Chavez is from Peralta and a graduate of Los Lunas High School, many locals assume she grew up in the Veguita area.

“They think I originated from here because I’m so involved in the community,” Chavez said.

That community involvement outside of La Promesa Elementary includes 4-H. Chavez, her husband, Johnny, and their 14-year-old daughter, Rilee, operate a local farm and ranch that keeps them very busy.

She is also very active at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in La Joya, where Chavez is the director of religious education. In that role, Chavez organizes catechism classes and helps students get ready for the sacraments. She has also started community service projects for the older kids.

Back at the school, Chavez has been teaching long enough that some of her current students are children of her former students.

“It’s the second generation,” Chavez calls it.

Not only that, but Chavez is working side-by-side with some familiar faces.

“We have teachers who were my former students. It’s nice to see them — they say, ‘We’re here because of you.’ You don’t realize that until they come back and tell you,” she said.

Longtime readers of the News-Bulletin, might recall a story that was printed about 23 years ago featuring Chavez and her twin sister, Ursula Chavez De Gonzales. The two started their education careers together at Gil Sanchez Elementary School in Jarales.

While Ursula moved on and now teaches at Valencia Middle School, Jessica stayed in the area and joined the staff at La Promesa when it opened the next year.

Adams nominated Chavez because she is “so deserving, always flying under the radar. Jessica is a selfless person, doing better for her students and her community — if we only had millions more like her, life would be perfect!”

Chavez says she is glad to have been a teacher and make an impact on her students.

“I chose to become a teacher so that I could help students succeed academically, develop into active members of society and speak up for what they believe in,” she said.

Unsung Heroes: Jocelyn and Chris Padilla Hunter

For the past 10 years, Jocelyn “Joshie” and Chris Padilla Hunter have been active in the 4-H community throughout Valencia County, not only going above and beyond for her own children, but also other youth involved in their club.

Unsung Hero: Gary Jacobson

A lot of local businesses will generously help support youth organizations and athletic teams, but not many will invite hundreds of teenagers to an after-hour event.

Gary Jacobson, the manager at Mitchell Starlight Cinema in Los Lunas, does just that every prom season for all students in Valencia County.

Unsung Heroes: The Keller Family

Since 1999, the Keller family — Mary Ann, Ron, Richard and Eddie — have hosted the Bosque Farms Car Show during the village’s annual community fair. Originally billed as the “Just For Fun” Car Show, the event started when Mary Ann was on the fair board.

Unsung Hero: Gwen Mosimann

Leading the effort to help find solutions for Belen Consolidated Schools is Gwen Mosimann, the first-year McKinney-Vento liaison for the district. Her directive is clear but daunting — find housing for homeless students and their families.

Unsung Hero: Clair Toledo

Toledo became principal of Los Lunas Opportunity Schools in December 2021 to lead the merger between Century High School and the Los Lunas Digital Academy. She said while the merge is an ongoing process, this will be the first year they graduate in a single ceremony, albeit with different gowns.

History of Valencia County News-Bulletin Citizens of the Year and Unsung Heroes

Since 1995, the Valencia County News-Bulletin has been recognizing a Citizen of the Year and Unsung Heroes each year.

Citizen of the Year: Holly Noelle Chavez

“She’s selfless … through blood, sweat and tears, and focus on what is best for the most vulnerable in the community, she does a thankless job, but she wakes up every day and does it.”

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.