Andrea Beaty, a fourth grade teacher for Flossmoor District 161 at Serena Hills School in Chicago Heights, will be among 34 finalists recognized for this year’s Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching.
It’s going to be quite a weekend for Andrea Beaty. She will take another big step on her unexpected journey as a top educator.
Beaty, a fourth grade teacher for Flossmoor District 161 at Serena Hills School in Chicago Heights, will be among 34 finalists recognized for this year’s Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching. The finalists, from an original field of 600 nominated educators, will be honored at a reception in Chicago on Saturday, March 4.
Golden Apple is a nonprofit committed to celebrating and developing great teachers who make life-changing differences in the lives of students. This year’s finalists represent teachers in the fourth through eighth grade throughout the Chicago area.
Ultimately 10 of the 34 finalists will receive the coveted Golden Apple Award after a final round of review and classroom observations by members of the organization’s selection committee.
There’s much to observe in Beaty’s classroom.
A good starting point is the classroom pet and mascot, a bearded dragon named Stitch.
“The students take care of Stitch, it’s a big responsibility. Some students aren’t allowed to have pets. Caring for Stitch is a way for them to show their parents they can handle the responsibility,” Beaty said. “Stitch is involved in many classroom activities.”
Beaty’s classroom is not really just a classroom; it’s something more, according to Shari Demitrowicz, principal at Serena Hills School.
“It’s known as Ohana (Hawaiian for “family”) and can be described as a unique, diverse community for all children where they develop a thirst for learning and acquiring knowledge,” Demitrowicz said. “The Ohana is highly student-centered allowing for all voices to be heard through rigorous and engaged learning opportunities.”
Demitrowicz added, “Andrea works hard to build relationships. She celebrates diversity. She makes her students stakeholders in her classroom. That’s what makes Ohana work. Andrea’s approach to her kids is, ‘The power stays in this room.’”
Students in the Ohana have a peace circle where they can share ideas and peacefully resolve differences. In the peace circle, students are cheerleaders for each other when someone is a little down or troubled.
“On my tough days I’ve asked cheerleaders for help,” Beaty explained.
Beaty researched a UNICEF program that encourages physical activity for children in the United States while also raising money for a nutritional, vitamin-rich peanut paste delivered to malnourished children worldwide.
She brought the program to her class. Now her students wear wrist bands that count their daily steps. The steps are converted to points that dictate the number of food packets sent abroad.
“You pick a mission for the food packets. We chose Uganda, helped send packets there, and we also studied Uganda,” she explained.
Closer to home, Beaty’s charges have assisted Respond Now in Chicago Heights and interacted with senior citizens at the Chicago Heights Park District.
Demitrowicz added that Beaty leaves personal notes on kids’ desks at the start of the school day. That reflects Beaty’s instructional philosophy.
“She’s a highly skilled instructional leader who works passionately helping all students make valuable connections through student-centered learning and 21st century principles,” said Demitrowicz.
Beaty is now in her eighth year as a teacher, starting with two years in Tinley Park, one in Chicago and the past five years at Serena Hills.
Her journey in education had an unlikely beginning.
After growing up in Oak Forest, Beaty began a career as an analyst and lender for a Chicago area bank and rose to assistant vice president of commercial real estate lending.
“Yes, in my prior life I was a banker for eight years, but my favorite day of the year was ‘take your kid to work day,’” Beaty explained. “Eventually I was at a banker’s conference and I told my boss, ‘I don’t think this is what I am supposed to do with my life. I’ve got to quit my job.’”
Beaty said her banking colleagues supported her decision to head into education. However, her father, a teacher, didn’t encourage her new ambition.
“He said I get to spend my Fridays at Wrigley Field with clients. Why would I want to give that up?” Beaty recalled.
As she transitioned to education, Beaty created a bucket list for her life plan.
I told my father, “Someday I am going to win a teaching award.”