Counselor of the Year Rachel Rodriguez Garza Shares Her Story

Vol. 2, Iss. 7 | March 2021

“Career and Technical Education is for everyone. I have worked alongside RGV LEAD for several years and believe wholeheartedly that there needs to be a link between the employer’s needs and the future workforce.”
Rachel Rodriguez Garza 

Hello, my name is Rachel Rodriguez Garza. I want to thank RGV Lead for this recognition. I am humbled and honored to have been named their Counselor of the Year. I am a Career and Technical Education Counselor for Edinburg CISD and have served the district for 23 years. I was born and raised in Edinburg class of ‘91. I received my bachelor’s degree, Spanish major and Biology minor, and master’s degree in Educational Guidance and Counseling from the University of Texas-Pan American. Go Broncs! I also have a principal certification from Lamar University.

I am the daughter of Antonia G. Rodriguez, who had a 5th-grade education, and Guadalupe Rodriguez, with an 11th-grade education. I am the youngest of three and the only girl, so you can imagine the attention I received growing up. My parents were migrant workers, and we migrated every summer. I learned what hard work, determination, perseverance, and family’s love and support can accomplish. I remember working in the fields and my mother telling me, you need to focus on school and study,… or Do you want to be doing this the rest of your life? I remember crying in the mornings because it was hard work, and I did not want to go, but I knew we had to. My mother continued her education through night school, and the Edinburg school district offered it to parents then. She advanced to 9th grade, but English class was difficult for her. She did not finish. But I saw my mother’s bravery and ganas that anything was possible.

My mother worked in an orange/grapefruit packing shed as a packer. Through her hard work and dedication, she became the mayordoma or lead person in charge of all the women packing the boxes and bags of fruit. She worked there until her retirement. My mother taught me that a leader leads by example and is not afraid to stand in the trenches alongside their peers. She would tell me, “we are all the same, we are all people that need to work to survive.” Respect is earned, and with it, your workers will be willing to give their all to you. She would say, “just because you have a title does not mean anything, nothing is handed to you, you have to work hard for it.”

My father worked for the University of Texas-Pan American, beginning as a yardman and advancing to head mailman until retirement. I loved it when I was taking classes there, and he would ask who my professors were. If they do not give you a good grade, they are not getting their mail…he was joking. My father taught me that you must do your part! He also taught me to have a servant’s heart. I learned that if someone needs help and you have the means to help them, you should. My father is well known in La Hielera, the neighborhood I grew up in. Everyone knows he has a caring heart and demonstrates a hardworking attitude. Everywhere we went, everyone went. I have to say this is where I learned to be a social butterfly. I often saw my dad help people, and I would ask, “Dad, why would you do that?” He would tell me, “I do what I can today, tomorrow I may need help and I hope someone is there to help me.

My parents taught me that dedication, hard work, and responsibility were not just words. They must be put into action. They were seldom absent from their jobs, and whatever task they had, they did it to the best of their ability. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for all the life lessons; your unconditional love and support have helped mold me into the woman I am today.

I have been happily married for 12 years to a God-Fearing man, Juan Garza Jr., and a mother to a beautiful 9-year-old daughter, Rachel Grace Garza. Juan is a very talented music educator. I must mention that we both play the trumpet. He is my best friend and strongest supporter. He has taught me to give until it hurts. Give of yourself, your time, your energy, your all. When you provide and feel that is all you have, you push yourself further AND do not expect anything in return. Juan, thank you for being my biggest cheerleader and always standing by my side. But, most importantly, for reminding me constantly to place God first and to do it all for His glory.

My kindergarten teacher taught me to strive for greatness and that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. My mother recalls being told by her, “Rachel is very smart. She will do great things. Never let anyone or anything stop her.

I began teaching at Edinburg High School, where I taught Spanish and Biology. When Johnny G. Economedes High School opened in 2000, I transferred to the East Side Strong Side and have been here ever since. I was a teacher for ten years, and even though I held my Counseling certificate, I continued teaching. I love working with students. I enjoyed seeing them learn and gain wisdom as they passed through my classroom. Those moments were priceless.

In October of 2008, I became the Career and Technical Education Counselor for Economedes High School. I had no idea what CTE was when I became a CTE Counselor. I thought CTE was for “those” students, not your top-tier ones. At least, that’s what I had been told. Wow, that could not be further from the truth! I remember being told that students in CTE rarely continue to college/university, so help them find a career/job after high school. I have worked with ALL students, from Valedictorians to students who barely graduated, for 13 years now as their CTE Counselor. I share how important it is to have the skills that employers are so desperately looking for. Career and Technical Education is for everyone.

I have worked alongside RGV LEAD for several years and believe wholeheartedly that there needs to be a link between the employers’ needs and the future workforce. My role is vital in helping the students make that connection between their education and their future workforce goals. RGV LEAD’s commitment to educating teachers and administrators through the Academic Leadership Alliance (A•L•A) program and helping shape and nurture future leaders in our students through the RGV LEAD Ambassador program is invaluable to the Rio Grande Valley.

I tell my students to explore their options in high school and see what they genuinely love doing. If you love what you do, it will not work. I enjoy what I do daily and am often told, “You are always smiling.” I smile because of God’s joy. I have a lot to be grateful for. I have been blessed to be in a position where I can help mold and shape the lives of our students, who will become contributing members of society. I identify with many of the students and know that helps them engage with what I offer. I treat each student like my daughter and help them the way I hope someone will someday be there for her. Many students need one person to believe in them and help them understand they can achieve greatness. I strive to be that person.

I must thank Edinburg CISD for being a fantastic district in which to work. I can attribute my success to working under the best administration and school board that supports CTE and their vision to help our students, all students, be college and career-ready. I would like to recognize my fellow CTE counselors and admin, along with the JEHS high school counselors who are the best, especially my wonderfully talented CTE teachers from Economedes High School. These people, my team, have allowed me to do my job and shine while doing it. I thank each one of you. I recognize that I could not have done any of this without all of you. Again, thank you, RGV Lead, for this honor, and in closing, I would like to share my favorite quote from the evangelist Billy Graham: “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”

Today, I humbly receive this award in the name of all who work behind the scenes and always go unnoticed. Thank you to all the unsung heroes.

~ Rachel Rodriguez Garza

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