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Americas High School teacher named 2020 National Speech and Debate Coach of the Year

Americas High School professional communications teacher Irene Gardea has been named the 2020 Coach of the Year by the National Speech and Debate Association, making her the only speech and debate coach in El Paso earn the national recognition.

“To be recognized at this level has been a little bit surreal because it’s just not something you expect,” Gardea said.

Gardea’s acceptance speech was aired June 14 during the opening of the 2020 National Speech and Debate Tournament, which is being livestreamed.

Gardea was also named the District Coach of the Year for the 2019-2020 and 2018-2019 school years. She was nominated for the national honor by her student, Caitlyn Acevedo, a senior at Americas.

“Ms. Gardea is so intelligent and so great at everything she does,” Acevedo said. “She just does so much for the campus.”

As part of the nomination, Acevedo wrote a letter detailing why Gardea deserved to win.

“Teachers like Ms.Gardea deserve to be recognized for all the hard work they put in,” Acevedo said. “On the surface it may seem like they just go into work and are done at the end of the day, but the truth is educators like Ms. Gardea do a lot behind the scenes and from their homes.”

Acevedo said Gardea is not only a great educator, but also a person who is thoughtful and engaging. She has been known to coordinate tie swaps between students and administration before a competition for good luck and writing personalized letters to encourage students.

“Ms. Gardea is one of those people who goes above and beyond, especially as our coach.” Acevedo said. “She's great at teaching and is always there for us.”

Gardea, who has been a teacher for 11 years, said growing up she considered herself an introvert, until she was accidentally placed in a debate class in high school where she flourished and went on to get a scholarship in speech and debate.

She said she certainly has been following her personal motto for the year, which is “Appreciate the Journey.”

“… I never thought that this would be something I would accomplish,” Gardea said. “I didn’t think this was in my realm of possibilities, so it’s been a really crazy journey.”

She said it means a lot to her to bring the national award home to Americas High School, where she was hired when she was a beginning teacher and always has had great support.

“I am just greatly indebted to Americas High School and SISD, but also to the speech and debate community in El Paso for all of their support because we really don’t get recognition like this,” Gardea said.

Published June 17, 2020

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