A teacher in El Paso, Texas, who gained national attention in 2018 when she posted a heartwarming video of her students hugging each other has died after a two-month battle with COVID-19, according to reports.
Zelene Blancas, 35, a bilingual teacher at Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary School, died Monday after spending nine weeks in an ICU after contracting the illness, ABC News reported.
“She always made an effort to share kindness, whether it was with a message or a note or just reaching out to her colleagues,” Principal Cristina Sanchez-Chavira told the network. “Just a very, very loving person.”
Blancas made headlines two years ago with the viral video of her first-graders, who chose from a “good morning or goodbye” menu to give each other hugs, handshakes, high-fives or fist bumps.
“What a nice way to end our week!!” she wrote in the post.
Blancas told the El Paso Times that she wanted the kids to feel like they “have a safe place to come back to and learn in a safe environment.”
Sanchez-Chavira told ABC News that the beloved teacher’s “small action touched so many lives.”
She added: “The kids felt so comfortable. You could see how loving they were — that came through in her video. And that I attribute to the culture she established in her class, that loving culture.”
Blancas, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 20, had shown signs of recovery and was taking steps on her own before her condition worsened and she was intubated on Nov. 22, her brother Mario Blancas told CNN.
The otherwise healthy woman never came off the ventilator before dying, he said.
“She was like my Wonder Woman,” Blancas told the outlet. “She was my backbone, and she was like my second mother even though we are only four years apart.”
He added: “Even though sometimes being a teacher is kind of tough … she always looked at the positive way. I didn’t know until now, but she was a walking angel.”
The late teacher’s video drew the attention of PinkSocks Life co-founder Nick Adkins, whose organization seeks to spread kindness by giving out pink socks.
Last year, he connected with her to hand out over 1,330 pink socks to students at her school during a “kindness pep rally.”
Blancas “was just a bundle of kindness and joy and love,” Adkins told ABC News.
“We try to celebrate people and organizations that are doing good things,” he added. “I’m grateful for the legacy that she’s left behind.”
Once the school resumes in-person learning, the principal said she hopes to honor Blancas with a “kindness corner” — for a “constant reminder of her and her kindness.”
“It’s very easy to find teachers that can teach,” Sanchez-Chavira told ABC News. “But to find teachers that carry this passion and love for children, and the spreading of kindness, that in itself is irreplaceable.”