Brennan Hallock, a Spanish teacher and cross country coach in the Higley Unified School District, is finding ways to inspire his students and is being recognized for his efforts through various awards and grants.
The six-year veteran teacher received the Diamondbacks Most Valuable Teacher award in July 2020 after being nominated by a student, earning $1,000 for classroom supplies.
This year, he was selected as a recipient of the Desert Financial Fiesta Bowl Charities Wishes for Teachers Grant Program, receiving $2,500. He has also been recognized twice as Teacher of the Month at Sossaman Middle School, most recently last month.
During the challenging time of teaching online at the end of 2019-2020 school year and trying to connect with his students virtually during the pandemic, Hallock said he had to learn how to get creative with his lessons.
“I was really trying to reach these kids who were at home and scared. I wanted students to have lessons they could attend and have a sense of normalcy, something engaging. I thought, ‘What is something I have always wanted to do in the classroom but never had the supplies to do?’” he said.
“I had always wanted to teach my students how to make tortillas, salsa, and guacamole, but we don’t have a kitchen at the school, so I figured this was the best time to try it. I could teach these live cooking lessons from my kitchen while my students were at home in theirs.”
The lessons were a hit with both students and their parents.
“I had a parent tell me these lessons were something her daughter will always remember and that she still makes these recipes at home today,” said Hallock. “These lessons and the parent’s comment were really touching for me. I, myself, will always remember these virtual cooking lessons too.”
While applying for the Fiesta Bowl Charities grant, Hallock said his mind went back to those lessons.
“It’s something that I’ve really wanted to replicate now that we’ve been back in the classroom but I didn’t have the resources to do it. So, I decided to fill out the Fiesta Bowl grant to be able to recreate these lessons,” he said.
Upon being selected as a recipient, Hallock gathered all the necessary supplies to make salsa with students in his Spanish 2 classes. He bought 10 blenders, 10 cutting boards, 10 kitchen knives, mason jars, can openers, dish soap, Clorox wipes, aprons, and bins to store everything.
Hallock and parents of his Spanish 2 students donated the ingredients.
He was able to arrange for every student to take home their own jar of salsa after the lesson and said he hopes that it’s something they can put to use during the holiday gift-giving season.
“With the holidays coming up, they’re learning a life skill—it’s something they could make as a gift to bring to their neighbors or a family gathering,” he said.
It’s not the first time Hallock has gone above and beyond to do something inspiring on behalf of his students.
At the end of the 2020-2021 school year, Hallock showed the film “McFarland USA” in his Spanish classes as a way to enhance the students’ learning of migrant working conditions and several cultural traditions.
After finishing the movie over the course of a couple days, Hallock said he held a discussion with his students and was amazed at their reaction.
“They were super invested in the film; I had kids crying at different parts,” he said. “When it ended, they were thanking me for showing it, saying it was the best movie they had ever seen. It opened their eyes to the world and let them see that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can still be successful. Our discussions on what defines success were especially thoughtful.”
Hallock was so moved by the way the film had influenced his students that he decided to reach out to one of the real-life runners from the movie, Danny Diaz.
“I emailed him and let him know the impact his story had made on my kids and on me,” said Hallock. “I told him that I would love to be able to come to see McFarland and see the school and what the cross country team was like.”
Within the hour, Diaz got back with him and soon the two were arranging a time for Hallock to come out to visit.
In September 2021, while on fall break, Hallock drove to McFarland, California, and not only had the chance to meet Diaz, but was also surprised by the appearance of four additional runners from the original team as well as Coach White, who were all there to greet him.
They took Hallock on a tour around the school where he got to see outside of the gym where the state championships were painted, attended a volleyball game together, saw the track, and showed him parts around the town where the movie was filmed and where the real-life runners trained.
Although Hallock’s students weren’t with him on the trip, he said he shared his experience when he got back by posting pictures on his school Instagram account.
He looks forward to showing the movie annually, offering a chance for him to talk about his experience with each year’s group of students.
“I hope they dream and reach for things that seem really unlikely,” said Hallock. “You never know if something good is going to happen from it.”
Hallock is currently working on a master’s degree in school counseling and hopes to one day become a school counselor.
But for now, he find meaning in the classroom and said his students’ enthusiasm motivates him striving to do more.
“I get excited to see them excited,” he said. “That’s one thing I love about teaching middle school. They haven’t lost their spark.”