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Muchas Gracias: Rodriguez Middle School dedicated to bilingual education pioneers

Less than 10 minutes into the Rodriguez Middle School dedication, Rudy and Rosemary Rodriguez received their first standing ovation. By the time the 90-minute program ended, there would be three more.

Hundreds of family members, former students and colleagues of Rudy and Rosemary gathered in the Rodriguez Middle School cafeteria Monday night to celebrate the longtime educational advocates and take a peek into the Denton ISD school named after them.

"They didn't do their work for the recognition they're receiving tonight," Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson said. "They did their work because they're committed to students and learning and to the community they love."

More than 600 Vipers began walking the halls of Rodriguez this August when it opened up at 8650 Martop Road in Oak Point. The $48.2 million school was approved as part of the 2013 bond package to alleviate overcrowding at Navo Middle School, which housed more than 1,300 students last year in a 1,000-capacity building.

Denton ISD board members voted unanimously in September 2016 to name the district's eighth middle school after Rudy and Rosemary.

"Our goal when naming a building is to find a way to recognize those individuals whose work has impacted the communities they serve," board president Mia Price said. "As you've heard tonight, the Rodriguezes certainly fit that bill."

Since 1975, they have lived in Denton, where their children and grandchildren have attended Denton ISD.

Rudy Rodriguez, who served on the Denton school board for six years, was instrumental in the development and fine-tuning of state bilingual education. He worked as a professor at the University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University and also represented Denton ISD at state and national conferences.

In addition to educational advocacy, he has been involved with the League of United Latin American Citizens, Denton's Census Count Committee and the Denton Voter Registration Committee.

Dennis Stephens, a retired district administrator whose name is on the district's central services building, met Rudy and Rosemary when he was their son's seventh-grade math teacher. He later worked with both as they continued to serve in the district.

"Rudy was always out front charting the course for so many educators, particularly the ones who chose bilingual education," Stephens said. "Although the entire state of Texas and the nation sought his guidance and expertise, Denton ISD was never neglected."

After working as a counselor at UNT, Rosemary Rodriguez worked as a social worker at the district for 22 years. She also was a member of the State Board of Social Workers and the Denton County Children's Advocacy Center. She has been involved with LULAC and Denton Christian Preschool, too.

Stephens worked with her for decades in the district central service offices and said she was an unrelenting force when it came to what was best for children.

"She wouldn't take no for an answer," Stephens said. "If something needed to be done, if something should be done, if something could be done, well, Ms. Rosemary said to consider it done. Should there ever be a need for an advocate for children, look no further than Rosemary."

After a mariachi band performance that had many in the crowd singing along, Rudy and Rosemary tried to find the words to express their gratitude. 

"This feeling, it's like being hugged by a big, cuddly grizzly bear," Rudy said. "This beautiful school is poised to produce scientists, teachers, businessmen and businesswomen, lawyers and maybe even a president or two ... or three or four."

"We're humbled and honored beyond measure," Rosemary finished. "Muchas gracias."

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.