Master's graduate devoting life to giving back to future generations 

May 12, 2011

PLAINVIEW – Robert Moreno cherishes two particular pieces of paper. One is a local newspaper article from 2002, detailing the death of his father. The other is his undergraduate diploma from Wayland Baptist University. They are both symbolic.

“When I talk to kids, I hold up both of them and say, ‘These are just pieces of paper, but one represents excuses and one represents no excuses,’” said Moreno. “I always want to remember that.”

Today, Moreno is a 29-year-old with two college degrees, having earned his Master of Education degree in elementary education on May 7 from Wayland. His whole life lies ahead of him, and he wants nothing more than to use the pain of his own life struggle to fuel him into a teaching career that will allow him to invest in the lives of the next generation of students and encourage them to reach for their dreams.

His professors at Wayland believed in Moreno so much they chose him as the WBU recipient of the EDICUT Award for pre-service teachers, given to a participant in the teacher education program who performs well and shows great potential for leadership in the classroom. Each of the 36 schools that make up the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas (ICUT) organization choose an honoree each academic year.

“Our faculty thought he really deserved the honor,” said Dr. Jim Todd, dean of the School of Education at Wayland. “He showed a commitment and desire for learning and for helping students begin to dream dreams of completing school. He showed them that they could do more than they ever thought they could.”

At one time, though, Moreno was on the other side of the desk as a student whose teachers wondered how to break through to him and encourage him to pursue a better life. A quiet, humble man now, Moreno was once a troubled student who said he carried his anger and abandonment issues into the classroom.

It started from infancy with a father who Moreno said was in and out of the family’s life. At age 2, young Robert spent time in the hospital for a depression he believes was caused by the detachment issues and from moving back and forth from Plainview to Amarillo. Eventually, the family settled in Plainview just before Robert started school. A lack of structure helped start a downward spiral, though.

“I started drinking alcohol in the fourth grade and doing drugs in about the fifth grade,” Moreno said. “I could do whatever I pleased and no one would question me. I was home alone a lot, or I would walk the streets from one side of Plainview to another, visiting friends or my grandparents.”

 The junior high years were rough, with Moreno’s temper and home issues coming into the classroom. By the time he reached high school, he really wasn’t interested in school any more. He started at Plainview High, then moved to Plainview Christian Academy, then moved in with his father in Edinburg to attend school there. He eventually moved to Amarillo and attended two schools there before coming back to Plainview. The typical pattern was to go to classes for a few months and then essentially drop out and stay at home. Out of concern, an uncle reported him to the Plainview truant officers in order to get him back in school. He was still under 18.

He ended up at Houston School, where he initially planned to get his GED and get on with life. But then-principal Tommy Chatham told him of a new program that would allow him to work at an accelerated pace and actually earn his high school diploma instead of the GED. Despite his struggles, Moreno actually graduated on time.

Moreno then entered the work force, but found himself in a rut from which he did not see any escape.

“I was working minimum wage jobs in terrible conditions. I could not afford a car or get away from home,” he said.

His dad’s death in 2002 was a wake-up call of sorts. The newspaper article he still carries with him detailed the arrest of drug runners who had stuffed his father’s casket with 11 pounds of marijuana before transporting his body back to Plainview for the funeral. That news, coupled with a memory of a conversation he’d had with his dad years before, were enough to awaken him to reality.

“I asked my dad why he drank all the time and he said, ‘That’s all I ever knew.’ When the story (in the paper) came out, I told myself then that excuses were what got my dad where he was. I knew I was heading to the same place my dad was,” he said. “It was a choice that I finally decided to make that I didn’t want to live his life.”

That began a turnaround that manifests itself today in a humble, soft-spoken young man who persevered through a bachelor’s degree at Wayland, enrolling in 2003 and graduating in 2008. Though he once imagined a career in personal training, but when that didn’t work out, he began seeking options for the future.

He ended back up at Wayland, thinking that maybe he had a chance to work in the lives of young people and steer them on the right path. Originally planning just to take coursework for certification, he opted to do the entire Master of Education degree and give himself even more opportunities.

His experience in student teaching in third grade at Highland Elementary during the spring semester affirmed that choice – “I feel like this is my true calling” – and made him even more excited about his future.

“It was more than I ever could have imagined,” he said of student teaching. “The kids opened up to me, and I still keep in touch with them. The teachers enjoyed having me and welcomed me into their classrooms.

“I feel like I was lost at a very young age. I had no father figure or role model… there was no one there for me,” he added. “I want to go back as a teacher and be the difference in a kid’s life.” 

Moreno’s attitude is 180-degrees from where it used to be. He said he now focuses outwardly only, intent on serving others and paying forward the opportunities he has received through education. He plans next to pursue the Master of Arts in Counseling through WBU and eventually be a school counselor, pouring himself into the lives of young students.

“Everything I do at this point in my life is for others,” he said. “I used to have a really bad temper, and I did nothing but destroy (my family) and our self-esteem. Now I want to pay that back and build people up. Teaching is a great way to do that.”

Moreno recalls a few good teachers in his past that tried to reach out to him but admits he wasn’t listening to anyone else at the time. Earlier this semester, he had the opportunity to have a phone conversation with Sharaud Moore, one of the young men featured in the 2007 movie Freedom Writers, after one of his professors, Scherry Scarborough, saw teacher Erin Gruwell speak at West Texas A&M. Moore’s own story mirrors Moreno’s in many ways.

“He shared some of his own stories and how he came away from that and decided to grow up and leave the past in the past,” Moreno said. “What stuck with me that he said was to keep moving forward, keep moving on. He also said, ‘Life experiences determine the type of teacher you are’ and I’ll never forget that.”

Moreno said he still struggles with insecurity about his past and knows it will always be a part of who he is and what he must overcome. But he finds comfort and peace through Wayland friends and at Harvest Christian Fellowship, where he attends church. He knows God has something better for him around the corner.

“I don’t really see myself as a success story but as someone who made a good choice. I’m nothing special… anyone can do it,” he said. “You just have to decide to do it. That’s