Sitting in a crowd of the top educators from across Texas, Joe Lee Johnson Elementary STEAM Academy teacher Allie Duffy stood in excitement after hearing her name called as the winner of the Rising Star category during the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards on Sunday night.

Duffy was one of two educators selected out of thousands from across the state and five finalists for the prestigious title. The Rising Star title honors teachers with 10 or fewer years of experience in the classroom. The award comes with a $5,000 cash prize for Duffy, and a $5,000 grant for her school.

“Allie Duffy is a leader for all of her students, the entire Joe Lee Johnson campus and our community,” Superintendent of Schools Steve Flores, Ph.D. said. “She challenges all students to realize their potential and provides them with an integral support system. We are incredibly proud of her and look forward to seeing her continue to excel as an educator and advocate for success for all.”

Duffy, who has been teaching for eight years, has served the Joe Lee Johnson community as a second-grade teacher since its opening in 2016 and was named Round Rock ISD 2018 Elementary Teacher of the Year and Region 13 Teacher of the Year.

As an elementary teacher, Duffy said her ultimate goal is for students to learn how to be empathetic, flexible, persistent, resilient and optimistic citizens who feel empowered to make a difference in the world and dream big.

“In my classroom, we foster and nurture relationships because if children do not feel loved and valued, there is no reason for them to want to engage in the academics,” Duffy said. “When you visit my classroom, you will see my philosophy of developing the whole child — socially, emotionally and academically — come to life. I am confident my students will become citizens who will change the world.”

Duffy said she credits her passion for education to three people: her grandfather who taught her not to overlook any child or family; a childhood neighbor with Down syndrome who taught her tolerance and acceptance; and her nephew who gave her a family perspective when it came to solving education challenges.

The statewide winners of the 17th annual awards include eight educators, two school districts, one early childhood agency and one public school board. The winners received a total of $430,000 in cash awards, and the program has given out more than $9.5 million in cash and grants since 2002.

Winners were selected from a pool of 58 finalists by judges who include former winners, school administrators, and university and community leaders.