For six years, Houston native Lisa Harrelson worked 90-hour weeks as an accountant and an extra two hours as a Sunday school teacher. When she realized those two hours were the best part of her week, she decided to make a career switch.
Since earning her master’s degree in education from the University of Houston more than nine years ago, Harrelson, 39, has taught elementary education in Houston and New York City. This is her first year teaching kindergarten, however, and she loves it at Success Academy Upper West.
“This age is wonderful because school is new for most of them. They’re just sponges. They’re absorbing everything and most of them are so curious and eager to learn; it’s really just a joy to see them learn and grow,” Harrelson said.
It’s also a joy for parents to see their child willingly jump from bed each morning to rush to get to school, said J.C. Renners, a parent who wrote a letter nominating Harrelson for the Blackboard Award.
“Ms. Harrelson is truly magical, and the lessons she teaches will serve these children their entire lives,” he said.
Not only does Harrelson teach with a “joyful rigor” Renners said, she educates the “whole child—educationally, emotionally and socially.”
After all, Harrelson said she believes a truly happy, fulfilled and successful person has to learn more than academics, including how to be considerate of others, to have integrity and to persevere.
“There are no shortcuts,” she said she reminds her class frequently—just as there were no shortcuts when she trained for the New York City Marathon last year. Harrelson said she told her class, “There was no way I could just wake up one day and run 26 miles without training for it.”
Personal examples like these have left a lasting impression on Harrelson’s students and parents alike. “She had an army of her students and their parents loudly cheering her through the finish line,” said Renners in his nominating letter. He credits Harrelson for “cheering, coaching and getting every ounce of ability out of her students” the other 364 days of the year.
Harrelson said she does this by infusing as much fun into her lessons as possible.
“I want them to enjoy learning and not dread coming here, because they have a long career of school ahead of them,” she said.
As part of a recent math lesson on data collection, for example, she surveyed her students for their favorite Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkin flavors. Then she used the information collected to show her students how to make a bar graph. To finish the lesson (and celebrate the end of the school year), she said, she will host a Munchkin party featuring plenty of her students’ favorites: jelly-filled donut holes.
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