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Andi Hawkins impacts academics through specials

Ryan P.E. teacher Andi Hawkins begins push-ups with students
If specials teachers had a pied piper, her name would be Andi Hawkins, Denton ISD’s Elementary Teacher of the Year. Her work ‘championing’ students and creating opportunities for them to succeed at W.S. Ryan Elementary earned her the district’s top teaching award this year.

What exactly is a specials teacher?

Technically, they’re the ones who teach music, physical education and art - the classes that eventually become electives in secondary school. But to hear Ms. Hawkins description of what these teachers do and achieve, may be more accurate.

“If classroom teachers are the bones and marrow of education, we [specials teachers] are the heartbeat. Those of us who interact with every teacher and every student every single day can have a great impact,” said the W.S. Ryan P.E. teacher.

Ms. Hawkins volunteers for extra before- and after-school duty, freeing up core teachers to tutor struggling students during that time. She organizes the campus’ fun run to generate funds for the school to purchase additional instructional items.

Her reputation on campus is one of serving others, often setting the example for others to follow.

“If classroom teachers are the bones and marrow of education, we [specials teachers] are the heartbeat.”

Last year after noticing that her students loved to dance during class, Ms. Hawkins started an after school Zumba Club, and was thrilled to have 20 students. However, she noticed that many more students wanted to participate, but were limited because they rode the bus and couldn’t get home after school if they stayed to dance.

She rallied the other specials teachers and, with administrator approval, she worked out “Club Friday.” This allowed students to have open access to something extra during the school day – art, dance, extreme PE or choir without needing a ride home. And the response has been overwhelming.

“The Dance Team has almost become student led,” she said. “At first I was mixing the music, creating the steps – doing everything. Now, the students choose their own songs and I find them working on choreography at home, recess and after school. Watching my students mature through this club has been a teacher’s dream.”

Mrs. Hawkins was inspired to become a teacher by her middle school creative writing teacher, Shelley Pulliam. She shared that it was not the content that impacted her, but the expectations and feeling that Mrs. Pulliam conveyed that made a difference.

“She invested in me,” said Mrs. Hawkins. “She looked at me like I was valuable and capable. I think of her every time to do the same for my students. It’s been 25 years and she’s still influencing me.”