Carmel Juarez, a science teacher at PSJA High School, could not believe her eyes as she walked in her classroom this morning. She had other visitors beside her students. H-E-B representatives surprised her with a $1,000 check for being named one of five state finalists for the 2010 Leadership Secondary Category of the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards.

Juarez is part of eight Rio Grande Valley and Texas Border educators recognized as the “Best in Texas Education”. The honor was kept a surprise for Juarez until today when she received the $1,000 check for herself and another check of the same amount for the school, as well as flowers and a cake.

As a finalist, Juarez is now competing at the state level for a $10,000 cash prize for herself and a $10,000 grant for her school. This award honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom.

During the presentation, Juarez’s students cheered for her and told her she was their best teacher. Juarez is a Transitional Community teacher and works with students that are lacking credits and need to catch up with their peers. When interviewed by H-E-B personnel, her students thanked Juarez for caring for them and for helping them recover their credits, so they can graduate with their class.

Juarez hopes to use the money awarded to help fund class projects for her students. As a finalist, Juarez will travel to Houston and meet with a panel of judges for a personal interview.

The winning teachers will be announced during a celebratory dinner on May 2.

H-E-B launched the Excellence in Education Awards program in cooperation with the Texas Association of School Administrators in 2002 as a positive way to support public education in Texas. This year, H-E-B received more than 1,200 applications and 7,500 nominations.