Last spring, when school buildings closed and Irving ISD transitioned to remote learning, Naida Martinez, a counselor at Townley Elementary School, made it a point to personally call each of her 350 students. 

“I just wanted them to know that I was available and willing to help however I could,” she says. “I realized that there is a lot of stress in the homes. Some people may have family members who have the illness or who have lost their jobs. They have all kinds of needs that they didn’t have before. It’s very important that we try to reach out to them and give them some hope or give them some help with dealing with the emotions that they’re feeling. I hope our families always feel comfortable coming and asking if they ever need help.”

A few months later, the school held a drive-through celebration parade and goody bag distribution for fifth graders who were leaving for middle school. Approximately 41 students were not able to attend, so in the days following the parade, Martinez went door-to-door delivering the goody bags to those students. 

“We didn’t want anybody to not get their bag,” she says. “I think it’s important for the kids, and it helps them feel more connected to the school and feel a part of it.”

This summer, as schools and families prepared for the new school year, Martinez, again stepped up to the plate – going above and beyond for her students. 

When Martinez heard about a student who was having trouble accessing Canvas and had no transportation to drive to the school for help, she came to the student’s rescue. She hopped in her car and drove to the family’s home to walk the student and parents through the Canvas login process.

The next day, a student, whose parents leave for work early and don’t return until after the school closes, was having trouble with a district-issued device. So Martinez got in her car again, drove to the student’s home and swapped out the malfunctioning device for a new one. 

“I don’t want the kids to be hindered from doing their work just because they’re having issues logging in or their technology is not working,” she says. “I especially feel bad for the parents who don’t speak English, and then on top of that, don’t have any working knowledge of technology, it’s a double whammy for them.”

For these efforts, Martinez was recognized as an #IISDGameChanger by Superintendent Magda Hernandez this week. Superintendent Hernandez surprised Martinez and six other individuals across the district with a certificate and swag bag – an effort she plans to continue throughout the school year. 

Martinez began her 39-year career in Irving ISD as a second-grade teacher at John Haley Elementary School. She then became counselor at Crockett Middle School for 11 years, before transferring to Townley Elementary School, where she’s served for the last 25 years. 

“I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a counselor. But when I started off as a teacher, I realized that there were a lot of other ways that I could help children, especially with their social and emotional situations,” she says. “In the regular classroom, you can teach the academics, but there’s really not a lot of time to get to know kids on a personal level and talk to them about what’s going on and the things that they enjoy. I felt like this would be a good place for me to be able to work with kids in a different environment but yet still in the school setting. I love being around the kids, so I decided to go back and get my master’s degree and get into counseling.”

Although the pandemic has changed the scope of her work, her purpose remains the same –  serving her students and families. 

“I just do whatever I can to make it easier for them,” she says. “Students – they all want to be loved and accepted. That’s our main responsibility. I wouldn’t do anything else. It’s so rewarding. There are tough days, but there are many more good days. And that’s what keeps us coming back.”