Colombian Teacher Is Making a Difference in Texas – and Teared Up After Student Said He 'Wanted to Be Like Me'

"I still have a lot to give to the kids here,” Kevin Mora tells PEOPLE about teaching in San Antonio for the last two years under an exchange program

<p>Images Provided by San Antonio ISD</p> Kevin Mora

Images Provided by San Antonio ISD

Kevin Mora
  • Colombian Kevin Mora has been teaching Spanish and social studies in Texas under the InternationalTeach Alliance exchange program

  • He received the Linguistic Responsive Teacher Award for all SAISD middle schools in 2023

  • “I still have a lot to give to the kids here,” Mora tells PEOPLE

In 2020, Kevin Mora, a teacher from Colombia, visited a relative in Virginia, marking his first trip to America. During his time abroad, he met a fellow educator who suggested he consider applying to teach in the United States.

“And I was like, ‘Well, that sounds interesting,' " Mora, 24, tells PEOPLE.

Mora then started looking at his options, which led him to InternationalTeach Alliance, a teacher exchange program based in the U.S. Already in his second year, Mora now teaches Spanish and social studies to 6th and 7th graders at the Eloise Japhet Academy in San Antonio, Texas.

In addition to earning praise from his students, Mora has been recognized by the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) for his work, which is quite an accomplishment for someone who had to acclimate to living in a new country by himself.

“I don't have any family here in Texas or anything,” he says. “The lifestyles are different, so it was kind of scary at the beginning. I wasn't really sure that I was going to make it."

Related: Meet the 'Kitchen Chemist,' a Science Teacher Who Cooks Up Inspiration in Virtual Classes at Home

Before coming to the United States, Mora spent two years teaching in Colombia, which is the requirement to be eligible for the International TeachAlliance program.

“I was teaching at a rural school [in Santana] where there were no computers, there wasn't internet,” he says. ”I used to buy notebooks for my students and stuff. It wasn't hard but compared to how it is here [in the U.S., it’s] a whole big difference. Since it was rural, some of [the students] used to go to school in working boots.”

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

It was a culture shock for Mora when he first arrived in San Antonio in 2022. One adjustment he had to make was driving a car to get around. Another was the city's food.

"San Antonio is very influenced by Mexican culture. I'm from Colombia and the food over there is way different," he says. "I can't find Colombian food here in San Antonio.”

<p>Images Provided by San Antonio ISD</p> Kevin Mora (L) with a student at the Japhet Academy in San Antonio

Images Provided by San Antonio ISD

Kevin Mora (L) with a student at the Japhet Academy in San Antonio

At his new school, Mora says students have more tools and accesses to resources than his Colombian pupils — but the biggest difference he's observed has to do with the way kids think about education.

“In Colombia, the kids go to school and see it as an opportunity," he says. "But here, [American kids] see it as something some of them don't like or don't want. That's been a big contrast right there."

<p>Images Provided by San Antonio ISD</p> Kevin Mora (L) with students

Images Provided by San Antonio ISD

Kevin Mora (L) with students

Mora says he’s constantly looking for new ways to get his students engaged.

For instance, when his students are learning about history, he says he tells them what happened "as if I was there."

"Like if I was Abraham Lincoln, I tell them what was going on in my life and stuff. And they like that because that's new for them, it's not just doing a reading or watching a video or doing something, but it's hearing something firsthand," he explains.

“For Spanish, I always involve cultural things in my Spanish lessons,” he continues. “That's what it is about. It's not just for them to learn the language, but also for them to learn the social part of the language.”

<p>Images Provided by San Antonio ISD</p> Kevin Mora and students in class at Japhet Academy

Images Provided by San Antonio ISD

Kevin Mora and students in class at Japhet Academy

In 2023, Mora was honored by being named the Linguistic Responsive Teacher Award for all SAISD middle schools. He says that the award makes it clear that he's "giving my best to the kids" and making the kind of impact he's always dreamed of as a teacher.

And he's not alone in thinking that.

“Even though everything was new to him (United States school system, instructional strategies, classroom management, and curriculum) Kevin took on the challenge and created a safe and engaging classroom environment where his students thrive,” Esmeralda Alday, SAISD bilingual and dual Language executive director, tells PEOPLE. “His achievements during his first year and his continued outreach for professional growth demonstrate that he is committed to providing quality education to our students."

Related: Calif. Teacher's Outdoor Classroom Was a Screen-Free Success: 'Kindergarten Is Supposed to Be Magical'

Mora has also received shout-outs from his Japhet Academy students, including Alexandre Torres, a 7th grader from Venezuela.

“He explains step by step what we need to do in class and helps us a lot in that topic, so we do not have to make mistakes in the exam," says Alexandre. "There’s more trust because as Latinos we understand each other how we speak and how to express ourselves.”

“I think he's one of those cool teachers,” adds Melanie Cano, a 6th grader from San Antonio. “Mr. Mora is so easygoing. He's not all uptight. He likes to have fun and joke around with us."

Melanie notes that they "love it" when he teaches them about where he's from. "I learned so much about Colombia in my time with him," the 6th grader says.

<p>Images Provided by San Antonio ISD</p> Kevin Mora in class

Images Provided by San Antonio ISD

Kevin Mora in class

Mora has one more year left to teach under the International TeachAlliance program, although he says the district could extend his tenure to two more years.

“I think I still have a lot to give to the kids here,” he says.

The PEOPLE Puzzler crossword is here! How quickly can you solve it? Play now!

Seeing a part of himself in his American students is what motivates him to teach, Mora says, “All my students are multi-bilinguals, but some of them are newcomers to this country."

Related: Matthew McConaughey Reveals His Favorite Teacher Is His Mom in Sweet Video (Exclusive)

“A couple of months ago,” he continues, “one of my students wrote me a letter saying that he wanted to be like me. He's a 7th grader, and he was like, 'I want to be like you because you speak English.' His parents came from Venezuela. He's learning English, and he wants to have a bright future in this country. I was just crying — I was like, 'This is the real reason why I do this.’ ”

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.