This month, Herrera was named the 2014 Indiana Latino Educator of the Year. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard presented the award to Herrera on May 3 at the Indiana Latino Expo.
As a high school teenager, Herrera was captivated with American music.
As a monolingual, the lyrics were beyond Herrera’s comprehension, but he remained enchanted with the rhythmic melody, instruments and composition of American music.
He said he fondly remembers gravitating to a radio to hear his favorite song, Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Herrera’s desire to learn English, ignited by his passion for American music, prompted him to study “teaching languages” at his university in Colombia.
Herrera began his coursework exuberantly learning different languages, unaware that the program was preparing him to be a teacher.
“At first I didn’t realize it was for teaching students. I was just learning different languages,” Herrera said.
After completing his studies in Colombia, Herrera got an opportunity to teach Spanish at South Dakota State University.
Soon after, he departed for the University of Iowa, where he earned his master’s degree in Hispanic literature.
Upon receiving his master’s, Herrera said he yearned to study a subject related to Latin America.
“The IU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies was the best program in the country,” Herrera said.
After completing his second master’s degree, Herrera was offered a position as a lecturer in IU’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
The Indiana Latino Educator of the Year is selected based on the merits of his or her educational and community impact.
“They have to be exemplary in their field. We assess the numbers of lives they may have affected and how their impact has affected students and teachers in the state of Indiana and beyond,” Pamela Gemmer, an ILE awards committee member, said.
“I’ve seen Israel make things happen for students, teachers and colleagues at all levels.”
Herrera contributes to language education on a local, regional and national level by also serving as the president of the City of Bloomington Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs.
“We try to promote and educate all aspects for the Latino community,” Herrera said.
Herrera also serves as advocacy chair in the Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Association, where he is working to incorporate the Seal of Biliteracy in Indiana.
The Seal of Biliteracy is an award given by a school, district or county office of education in recognition of students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation.
The Seal of Biliteracy encourages students to learn different languages and is attractive to future employers and college admissions offices, Herrera said.
When the requisites are met and the legislation passes, Indiana will be the fifth state in the country to receive this distinction.
Additionally, Herrera was recently elected the president of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. This organization promotes the learning of Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures at all levels, Herrera said.
“We organize workshops, conferences and programs promoting activities where teachers can improve and have professional development,” he said.
Coming from Latin America, Herrera understands the need to advocate for the Latino community.
“There are many members of society,” Herrera said. “We are a minority, so if you are a minority, people won’t constantly see you or realize what you are doing for other people.”
Through his organizations, Herrera recognizes Latino high school students who excel academically, helping them obtain scholarships for college. He also strives to get recognition for language teachers across the state.
Despite Herrera’s relentless advocacy for the Latino community and language education initiatives, he remains fervent about teaching and his students.
“That’s my passion. That’s my thing,” Herrera said. “There will never be a moment when I don’t like teaching.”
Herrera said he believes his impact and duty transcend the classroom.
“I don’t see my role here as just teaching them grammar or teaching them to say ‘Hola, cómo estás?’” Herrera said. “It’s doing the personal things.”
Herrera’s passion and teaching style has resonated with some of his students.
“The difference with Israel is that he’s so passionate about teaching, and he loves the language,” William Northdquist, a sophomore and former student of Herrera, said. “He dedicates himself to his students and his classes like a professor I’ve never seen.”
Northdquist said taking Herrera’s class had a lasting impact. Herrera told him education is indispensable, and promoting education is paramount.
“He encouraged me personally to double major in Spanish,” Northdquist said.
“If you don’t have education, you won’t take advantage of life as the maximum level,” Herrera said. “You can share and help people with what you know and assist in the welfare of many people.”
“You will help with the development of a city, of a country, because you will be cultivating with your knowledge.”
Herrera’s work ethic, benevolence and selflessness is lauded and has been recognized by his peers.
“Israel’s leadership, creativity and dedication to turning ideas into reality are highly esteemed in the world language communities,” Gemmer said.
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