HUNTINGTON BEACH (CBSLA.com) — A local man’s campaign to venerate a teacher he says protected him when he was bullied as a child has succeeded.

Elementary school teacher Lisa Moloney was named Orange County Teacher of the Year on Wednesday, due in no small part to the efforts of former student Marcos Saldivar, who credits his former teacher with changing his life.

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Moloney, a 22-year teaching veteran, is admired by students both past and present, many of whom were present when she was surprised with the award Wednesday morning.

Saldivar, a gay man who was bullied frequently as a child and student at William E. Kettler Elementary School in Huntington Beach, is now an editor for the Huffington Post. Stating that Moloney provided the support for him that made a difference in his life at that time, Saldivar made a push for his former teacher to receive the award.

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“You didn’t give up on me when I was a child, and you haven’t given up on the hundreds of students that you’ve been teaching throughout your 20-plus years in this career,” Saldivar said. “I think that shows your passion and your dedication and love for your students.”

At the end of every school year, Moloney makes it clear to her students that she will be there for them always.

“That’s what I think the kids remember, is how they felt,” Moloney said. “And that’s what we all want, you know? We all want to have that feeling of someone looking out for us and caring for us.”

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Having now won Orange County Teacher of the Year honors, Moloney could go on to be nominated for California Teacher of the Year.