Westwood Elementary gifted and talented teacher Danyelle Moreno knew she wanted to teach since she was a little girl. She would spend her summers volunteering at summer school and loved seeing knowledge be passed along. More than anything though, Moreno loved seeing when students and teachers understood the material and each other.
Moreno said she did not always feel understood because of her introvert personality, but then her second-grade GT teacher came along and changed her world.
“My mom was really sick when I was in second-grade and Mrs. Evans just took me under her wing and loved on me,” she said. “I liked that she understood me and got to know how I thought and how I liked to do things. I saw that and I wanted to be that person for someone else.”
Moreno went on to graduate from the University of Houston with her degree in Early Childhood Education. She has taught for 15 years, four of which have been in FISD at Westwood, and said Evans’ way of teaching has inspired her in her own teaching style.
“I want to get to know each student and make them excited about learning. I want to make school fun for them,” Moreno said. “One may be super creative, but the other is an analytical thinker, so I really want to get to know my kids – what makes them tick, what drives them, what motivates them to get working.”
This strategy has allowed Moreno to build bonds with her students that have made a difference in their lives. For example, Moreno brought 30 Rubik’s cubes to class just for her students to try to solve the puzzle, and it ended up leading to one student finding a new talent.
“One little girl said she was determined to solve [the Rubik’s cube], so that summer, she practiced and practiced and taught herself off YouTube,” Moreno said. “Now, she goes to Rubik’s cube competitions and her mom says it is the thing she loves. She can solve them in about 15 seconds, it’s crazy, but it is awesome to see her find her passion.”
Moreno also had a student who was very introverted, like her, and Moreno introduced her to an outgoing student who helped pull her out of her shell, and now the two are best friends. These small but impactful efforts made by Moreno can be seen by everyone.
“She has an ability to build relationships with kids makes them enjoy coming to her,” Westwood Principal Kristin Moffitt said. “She also provides authentic learning experiences for kids, and she also provides professional learning for GT teachers twice a month so we can start adding differentiated experiences for students in the classroom.”
A lot of these authentic learning experiences come from Moreno’s leadership in STEAM Day and STEAM activities.
“It’s been a big push to bring science and technology to the forefront, so she’s been doing a good job building STEAM Day up every year,” Moffitt said. “STEAM gives our students a chance to dabble into things they could pursue later on in life.”
Moreno said STEAM day is a lot of work, but worth every minute of it when she sees the students’ reactions.
“It’s a lot of work, it’s a labor of love, but seeing what the kids get out of it is great,” Moreno said. “Everybody finds something that they’re good at on STEAM Day.”
Students finding one thing they love is something Moreno always strives to achieve.
“I want to help them find what they love about school,” she stated. “Find something that brings you joy. We don’t all like science, we don’t all like math, but that’s okay. Just find that one passion that makes it fun for you.”
Being as Moreno is living out her life-long dream of becoming a teacher, she leaves her students with one piece of advice.
“Strive for big things,” she said. “The higher you aim, the higher you will go.”