The youngest of five children, Renee Gomez was encouraged to be a teacher by her parents for as long as she can remember.
But her desire to become an educator didn't spark until she became a parent, and realized she had a natural connection with children.
"I wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved animals so much. As I grew older, I wanted to be a social worker to save the world," recalled Gomez, whose two older sisters were teachers.
"Eventually, I realized after having a child of my own that I really loved being around children," she said. "I was a magnet for kids. Kids enjoyed being around me and I loved their energy and sense of wonder. I thought this was a way to have some kind of impact on society, a positive one."
Today, Gomez is having a positive impact on students as a second-grade teacher at West Fresno Elementary School, where she has taught for 21 years.
"My ultimate goal as an educator is to inspire my students to go out and be their personal best," she said. "I want my students to be kind, tolerant, positive and educated people who will make their neighborhood, family, Fresno and the world a better place."
In 2015, she was named the Fresno Teacher of the Year. She also was named teacher of the year in 2001 for the West Fresno Unified School District.
Although she is "completely honored and humbled" to be recognized as the Fresno County Teacher of the Year, she doesn't think she is extraordinary in any way.
"I do deeply care about my students, their families, and the community they live in," Gomez said. "But honestly, I feel we all are teachers of the year. Teachers are the steppingstones for our children's future success."
Born in Fresno, California, Gomez lived there until she went away to college in Belmont. After graduation, she moved to San Francisco for 12 years, then, returned to Fresno after having children.
Early on as an educator, her greatest challenge was learning how to teach all students.
"Sometimes you have students with extreme behavior issues," said Gomez, noting she had to learn strategies, patience and acceptance to help these students succeed.
"I have found that getting to personally know your students and where they come from is extremely important," she said. "I work in an area in Fresno that is filled with poverty, gangs and crime. I make it a point to visit my student's homes to build relationships and trust with my families. I'm here to help, not judge. When the school, family, student and teacher work together good things happen. I love where I teach, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
She gains great satisfaction at the end of the school year when she sees her students leave with a sense of confidence and a love for learning.
"Every year I get a new group of students," Gomez said. "They came in with a set of skills, and now they understand them and can apply them in different ways. I try to make learning engaging and fun. We are constantly interacting with each other with productive conversations. I'm also happy to see them more open to new experiences and acceptance of others. They are definitely ready to conquer third grade."
In the next school year, she will bring more technology into her classroom, and hopes to make videos similar to TED Talks — but done by second-graders to convey the world through their eyes.
"I know they have a lot to tell," Gomez said.
She noted a quote by Aristotle: "Educating the mind without the heart is no education at all."
"As a teacher at West Fresno Elementary School, I have found you need to teach the whole child: mind, body, spirit and heart," Gomez said. "If a child comes to your classroom hungry, feed them. If they are cold, give them a coat. If they are sad, give them a hug and find out why. Give them a book, and teach them of all the possibilities that are ahead. This philosophy has helped me make a difference at my school. These students also have made an incredible impact in my life. They make me feel complete."