Things That Matter

Texas Teacher Continued To Teach Her Students From Her Hospital Bed Until She Died From COVID-19

For so many of us, our teachers are our heroes. They help make sure we have a safe place to come to, to learn in, to express ourselves. Teachers have helped shape so many of us into the people we are today.

That was the work that one El Paso teacher was doing all the way up until the very end. Unfortunately, she’s passed away after battling COVID-19, however, thanks to her compassion and commitment to education, her memory will live on for a very long time.

An El Paso teacher behind heartwarming viral video dies at 35 of COVID-19.

Zelene Blancas was a kind soul who shined positivity on everyone she meant, according to so many of those who knew her. Unfortunately, like so many other Americans and people around the world, Blancas recently lost her battle against COVID-19.

The first grade bilingual teacher from El Paso, Texas had gone viral for her positive vibes just two years ago in a video shared to YouTube of her students giving each other hugs and high-fives.

Blancas, who taught at Dr. Sue Shook Elementary School, died of COVID-19 and passed away this week, former Socorro ISD colleague Patty Flores shared on social media. In her social media post, Flores said she and Blancas worked together as fourth grade bilingual teachers.

“Ms. Blancas was a dedicated teacher who loved her students and provided a positive, loving environment for them. She had a light that shined from within and was a positive influence on all those around her,” Flores said. She added, “She was my colleague and friend and simply a beautiful person all around. She will be greatly missed but her legacy of kindness, love and joy will carry on with all those who were blessed to have known her.”

According to a GoFundMe page seemingly started by her family to raise money for her treatment, Blancas tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 20, had to be hospitalized on Oct. 24 and was placed in the intensive care unit. The GoFundme page had raised $33,226 of its $15,000 goal with almost 1,000 donors to the campaign as of Monday.

Blancas and her class had gone viral in 2018 for a video posted to YouTube.

In 2018, Blancas and her students went viral for a video showing Blancas’ students giving one student high fives, hugs and handshakes. The video quickly racked up the views and had received more than 13.6 million views in November 2018 and had 22.2 million views as of last week.

According to a prior story written about the viral video in the El Paso Times, the video showed an example of a new educational initiative at the time called social-emotional learning, which teaches young students how to cope with their emotions, handle conflict and develop interpersonal skills. 

One student was chosen at random to be the recipient of friendly greetings and classmates chose one of four greetings from a set of four greetings pictured on an adjacent wall.

As the students left for the day, they lined up and chose which greeting to give the selected student, allowing students to feel in control of greetings they receive and allowing them to go home happy, Blancas told the Times.

“I want them to go home feeling like I’ll be waiting for them here the next day, or for them to feel like they’ll have a safe place to come back to and learn in a safe environment,” Blancas said two years ago. 

“Regardless of the grade level she taught she was an inspiration and motivation for her students,” Flores told TODAY. “What she taught all of us about creating that positive environment, even during long distance learning, will never be forgotten.”

Blancas also helped out following the El Paso massacre in 2019 at Walmart.

Following the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, 1,337 pairs of pink socks were sent to students at Shook Elementary School and on Nov. 19, 2019, a “Kindness” pep rally was held, encouraging students to wear their pink socks on Mondays and teaching them about kindness in the process. 

Nick Adkins, co-founder of Pinksocks, told TODAY that Blancas was an example of the best of humanity. 

“The ripple effect of love and kindness that she put out into the universe through teaching her kids through the years is immeasurable. Ms. Blancas and the entire staff and students at Shook are what we should all strive for each and every day, each and every now. She lives on in the love that she taught and spread. I am grateful for her. We all are,” Adkins said.

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