Samantha Hernandez was nominated by an anonymous student.
"My fellow classmates and I have unanimously concluded that 'Mrs. H' not only exemplifies the best model of a teacher, but is a great and compassionate human being with the highest moral and ethical standards," said the student. "She leads by example, never being afraid to communicate to someone in need. I cannot imagine any other teacher in the United States who hasn’t had a more direct impact on students’ lives. Not only has she changed my life, but many of my peers have grown enormously because of her. Whether it's through her AP Psychology or AICE Sociology classes, casually chatting with her on campus, or direct involvement with her club, We Dine Together, students naturally gravitate to her kindness and enthusiasm."
"From my very first day of meeting her, I came home beaming with delight about how different this teacher is from all the rest," said the student. "She's so open and welcoming, and she's genuinely interested in the students. I felt as if Mrs. H taught only to me, despite being in a class of thirty students. Every class started with conversations about things that personally affect us: family strife, perseverance through hardships, and mental health."
Since Mrs. H teaches Psychology, there is a lot of internalization in what is being taught. Mrs. H freely recalls her own personal experiences as an example of lessons being discussed. This makes everyone connect with her and helps crystalize long-term memorization of what is needed to be learned because Mrs. H makes everything so real and fun. According to the administration, she continuously has one of the highest pass rates in the county for both Psychology and Sociology exams. She also was chosen as Teacher of the Year last year.
Because of her infectious positive outlook, many students are drawn to her outside of the classroom and want to participate in her club, We Dine Together. It's a new organization at the school that aims to end social isolation. We Dine Together has received national attention for its success in connecting students during lunch period and establishing long-term relationships with other staff members. These lunch meetings consist of student- and teacher-led discussions about overcoming life’s challenges, active listening, mindfulness, and other ways to better connect with one another.
"Through my early involvement with her, I have watched this group transform from ten members to over 100 in only a couple years," said the student. "On a personal level, I have seen my own progression in building self-confidence and learning to be more empathetic to other students’ concerns. As a student leader, I take great pleasure witnessing fellow students, who have been bullied or are new to the school, walk into our lunch meetings and walk out feeling connected and valued."
Last year, Mrs. H led a school-wide assembly with a guest speaker, Dianne Grossman of Mallory’s Army, which is an outreach organization she created after her daughter experienced bullying and ultimately committed suicide. After Mrs. Grossman gave an emotional appeal to change the school’s culture, Mrs. H spoke to the entire school about ways to implement these understandings. Some of the We Dine Together club members gave testimony of their own victimizations.
"Watching Mrs. H go on stage with a presence that makes students feel like they are not alone is the most special thing I have seen from a teacher on campus," said the student. "Through this presentation, our school now has an elevated understanding of the impacts of bullying and ostracism. By being closer with Mrs. H outside of the classroom, I see her as a true role model and a beacon guiding her moral compass. In many ways, I see myself wanting to be a mirror of Mrs. H."