A New Mexico teacher is going the extra mile to give her students a better life.

When the bell rings, every morning begins the same way for Albuquerque, NM kindergarten teacher Sonya Romero.

“Did you eat?”

“Are you clean?

Fourteen of Romero’s 18 students are eligible for free lunches, and that is just the beginning of their needs.

“A big part of my job is making them feel safe,” she explained in an article in the Washington Post last year.

Stocked with socks, underwear, and pants, Sonya Romero tries her best to give her young students some sense of normalcy.

“These kids aren’t thinking ‘Am I going to take a test today?’ They’re thinking ‘Am I going to be okay?’”

sonya-romero4The story that Romero told The Post highlights the difficult dilemma teachers across the country face. As the demand for good test scores increases, it becomes even more difficult to help students reach their full potential when they do not have the basic necessities of life— including a family to go home to.

Romero recalls the day the police took a 5-year-old from her classroom after one of the child’s parents had overdosed.

“Having a 5-year-old beg not to be taken away by police was devastating. I remember I gave this child the only thing I could find which was a stuffed toy that I had in the class,” she says.

Across the country, teachers face similar scenes. It forces the teacher to be more than an educator— they must also work to ensure the emotional and physical health of the child in parts of the country where poverty can be a difficult cycle to break.

Across the country, schools are dealing with the challenges of making sure that students have what they need to succeed. In Florida, Palm Beach county charter schools face the same dilemma. Gregory James Blount of the Eagle Arts Academy says nutrition is just one of many needs and priorities that must be addressed for students to succeed.

The story of what happens every day in Romero’s kindergarten classroom has struck a nerve across the country. Last year, the hard work and big heart of Sonya Romero were recognized on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ellen presented Romero with two $10,000 checks— one for the teacher and one for the school that has provided an anchor for so many children that have so little.

In a montage played before the presentation, one student summed it up best: “I want to be like her when I grow up. I want to be able to make everyone feel equal, and that they all have a part in the world, and can make it a better place.”