heb gift cards for students
Margaret Olivarez, a third-grade teacher at Copperfield Elementary in Pflugerville, hands out H-E-B gift cards to her students. (Photo Courtesy: Pflugerville ISD)

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — A local elementary school teacher, named a semifinalist in H-E-B’s Excellence in Education Awards, split up the prize she received into individual gift cards to give out to families of her students.

Margaret Olivarez, a third-grade teacher at Copperfield Elementary School, a Title I school in Pflugerville, was one of 150 teachers from across Texas to be named a semifinalist out of a pool of 1,500 nominations. She did not move to the finals, but still received $250 in H-E-B gift cards.

Instead of keeping the prize, Olivarez had a different idea to support her students during this difficult COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are extremely challenging times for everyone,” she said, “but especially for the parents of my students.”

Olivarez decided to split up the “token of gratitude” into individual $25 H-E-B gift cards and handed them out to families of her students this week.

“I know it’s not much,” she said, “but its more than just the monetary gift. It is an opportunity to let my students and their parents know that I am thinking of them and I am here for them.”

Olivarez attached the gift cards to bags of goodies to hand out to her students. (Photo Courtesy: Pflugerville ISD)

Continued generosity

If her name sounds familiar, it’s because KXAN has featured Olivarez’s dedication to her students twice before.

In 2018, she started reaching out to colleges and universities across the U.S. to ask for donations of t-shirts. Dozens of schools sent hundreds of shirts, enough to give one to every student in the school to wear during Pflugerville ISD’s college shirt days to encourage kids to dream big.

“They can have that dream as they get to middle school, as they get to high school,” she told KXAN in December 2018. “You know, ‘Someone told me that I can do this.’ Yes you can.”

Last summer, when she saw the need for school supplies for her students ahead of the new school year, Olivarez started emailing corporate CEOs to ask for donations.

Margaret Olivarez, a third-grade teacher at Copperfield Elementary, is surrounded by some of the backpacks donated by corporations she solicited on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

“I’m thinking how many of our students actually show up the first day of school without supplies and a backpack,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. I know as a teacher myself, I would purchase things to have the first day of school because all the kids are so happy, they’re opening stuff, and then you have those that might just sit there, and I just couldn’t sit there and do that.”

Supplies started flowing in, and in the end she received more than 800 backpacks, as well as markers, notebooks and other supplies to fill them with. “I was a little overwhelmed,” she said. “I didn’t think we were going to receive this kind of attention. It was just a simple email.”

The H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards ceremony was called off due to the pandemic, but winners will still be announced on May 6 on Facebook.

Teachers from Austin, McDade, San Marcos, Del Valle, Round Rock and Killeen ISDs are in the running for more than $400,000 in cash prizes. See the full list of finalists here.