There was just a special energy around Ponderosa Elementary this past Monday morning. And it wasn’t just because of the handful of students and parents who mistakenly reported to the building a day early thinking it was the first day of school.
Principal LaFredrick Smith was in full welcoming mode and the teachers were whizzing through the halls as the KPRC Houston Life Show crew came through to set up the staging in Ms. Shanekia Hall’s newly decorated Kindergarten classroom to interview her as a Teachers of Tomorrow Teacher of the Year finalist.
But it was all a ruse.
Everyone but Shanekia was in on the secret that she was no longer the finalist, but the actual winner of the 2022 Teachers of Tomorrow Teacher of the Year.
Three minutes into the interview with KPRC Correspondent Melanie Camp, Shanekia found out what everyone in the building knew as her colleagues, Spring ISD Superintendent Dr. Lupita Hinojosa, and Principal Smith burst through the door of her classroom with balloons in hand and cheers and applause abound.
Immediately, the tears began to flow from Shanekia’s eyes as she now understood what all of the excitement of the morning was really all about.
“See, I told you I have the best admins,” Shanekia said as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.
After the interview was over, Hall was still emotional about winning Teacher of the Year as many of her colleagues came up to hug and congratulate her for winning the Teachers of Tomorrow award as a first-year teacher.
“The support, it feels good. It feels good to have people around you who are genuinely happy for you and genuinely wants to see you succeed,” Shanekia said. “So just to have everyone here, the Superintendent, the District Supervisor, my TOT Representative, it feels really good.
“My heart is full. I’m so emotional. I usually hold my tears in, but as you can see I could not. It was a lot.”
Teachers of Tomorrow Field Supervisor Gwendolyn Mays spent the past academic year working with Shanekia and observing her enthusiasm and passion for teaching her students. She saw Shanekia take out individual time with all of her students to connect with them and to make certain they were getting what they needed to grow with every day of learning.
Mays said it was Shanekia’s love for her students and the willingness to always go above and beyond, not just for her class but for her colleagues and school, that made her the Teacher of Year winner over so many qualified candidates.
“She speaks constantly about her mentor, about the kindergarten team,” Mays said. “She talks to me all of the time and tells me how grateful she is to be under the supervision of Mr. Smith, Ms. Johnson and to work with all of the teachers. She even developed a wellness program, a holistic approach to help the teachers because teaching is a demanding job. These people are in the trenches 24 hours a day. Teaching doesn’t stop when you leave here. She continues to work when she leaves here.
“It’s just a blessing when I observe her class, I see her doing the best that she can. Reluctant students have started to speak out. Every time I come to observe her, I have an extra smile because I know it’s going to be a great day.”
Shanekia’s mentor Chavi Pruitt, who worked with her throughout the year, has witnessed Shanekia display many of the attributes Mays observed.
“We are grateful for her, she is an asset here,” Pruitt said. “Her relationship building with students is amazing. She is an example of what we want everyone to be.”
Shanekia certainly exemplifies what Superintendent Dr. Lupita Hinojosa wants from all of her teachers. Hinojosa and everyone in attendance had a chance to observe Shanekia in action when one of her new students from this year and his mom stopped by for a visit.
Shanekia engaged with the parent while also connecting with the shy youngster who went from hiding behind his mom’s legs to slapping high-fives with Shanekia in no time.
“This is a big honor for the District, absolutely,” Dr. Hinojosa said. “This is one of the reasons that I say I am the super proud Superintendent of Spring ISD because of teachers just like Ms. Hall. This was her first year teaching this past year and she did an amazing job.”
To their point of how much Shanekia cares about her students, she plans to spend much of the $5,000 award she received on her students. She had already taken up donations from friends and family members to sponsor a student in her class to help purchase books that they want from the Scholastic Book Library.
Now Shanekia plans to use some of the money she won to buy even more books for students to build their personal libraries at home. Shanekia, who is still on maternity leave until next month, also plans to use some of the money to buy some toys to add to her already thoughtfully put-together classroom.
And then she has an even bigger surprise for her students.
“I’m also big on Christmas gifts,” Shanekia said, “so I want to make sure all of the kids in my classroom have the gift that they want this year again.”
Congratulations Shanekia for being the 2022 Teacher of Tomorrow Teacher of the Year recipient. We are proud to have played a part in your journey and look forward to seeing all the great work you will do!