Hower named Lee’s Teacher of the Year
The first day Samantha Hower walked onto the campus of Kent State University to begin her collegiate career, she switched her major to art education. A decade later, she never would have imagined she’d be The School District of Lee County’s 2019 Teacher of the Year.
Hower was surprised by her colleagues, members of the school district and supporters Wednesday morning at Mariner High School, as Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins awarded her the prestigious title.
“This is way above and beyond what I could have pictured in my head,” said Hower of being named Teacher of the Year.
An art teacher at Mariner, Hower was instrumental in putting the “A” into the STEM program at the high school, now STEAM. She added an art curriculum to the science, technology, engineering and math already being taught.
For the last two years, she has produced the highest AP 2D Studio Art scores in the district.
“When I think of Samantha Hower, she’s a true example of somebody who does what’s best for kids,” said Dr. Thomas Michel, principal at Mariner. “She’s unique, she’s genuine, she’s very humble.”
Dr. Michel presented Hower with a “Rocky” plaque, a play on his advice to her to “go the distance” when interviewing for the teacher of the year honor. He admitted that she popped in his office, saying the famous line, “Yo Adrian, I did it!” upon making it to the final two.
Atkins said though he has never directly worked with Hower, that many of his peers, many of whom were in attendance, have nothing but glowing remarks about her work in the district.
“When the news came out that she was the Teacher of the Year, I heard overwhelmingly again, and again, and again that we couldn’t have found a more deserving candidate for this particular reward,” Atkins said. “That makes my heart feel good and I’m sure that the team at Mariner High School feels the same way.”
Hower, 32, has been with the school district for seven years, previously teaching at East Lee County High School. When asked if she ever thought this accolade was a possibility, she said, “Oh no, not even in the slightest.”
She said the administration over the years at Mariner has been “wonderful” in supporting her mission to add the A to STEAM.
This year is the first year where freshman students at Mariner will start with the STEAM program. Hower said she has molded her slice of the acronym with help from faculty, as well as current students enrolled in the STEAM program.
The idea is to prepare students for life after the classroom and provide them with tools to succeed.
“We’ve been looking at the whole big initiative,” Hower said. “We’re looking at not just curriculum and cross-curricular connections, but internship opportunities and art students participating in shows — getting out there and working with professionals — so it’s that whole set of skills, rather than just what we can offer them in our classrooms.”
She said she’s constantly asking students “Why?” to help them better understand themselves and better communicate with people around them.
Hower joked that when she asks a student a question, and they answer, other students will follow up with, “She’s going to ask you why!” And she loves that.
“‘What do you like? Why? Why do you like that thing? What drives you as a person?'” Hower asks her students. “As an art teacher, I think I’ve got a really unique opportunity to make my classroom space really about relationship building, more so than maybe a core content area, just because you’re free to move with what the students want to do.”
She said she sees her class and students as a team, helping one another to develop critical thinking and communication skills.
“It’s really that, we’re in it as a team and I want to teach you to think,” Hower said. “Yes, I’m going to try my best to get you that passing score, but I want you to walk out of here knowing how to think and how you react to things as a person.
“When they are automatically asking themselves and the people around them questions about, ‘What is driving you to make your decisions — defend your decisions?’ And just that comfort level with the idea of risk taking.”
Hower’s impact on Mariner and the district extends beyond the classroom.
She is a leader on campus, serving as department chair, TALC Representative and PLC Facilitator. At the district level, Hower is part of the Teacher Evaluation Committee and Career Ladder Committee.
She is passionate about arts in schools, and looks beyond just artistic talent.
“I think what art in a school can really be defined by (is) the students in that program, but then the bigger picture — ‘why the A?” Hower said. “To me, the “A” isn’t necessarily that a kid can draw or paint, it is the way that they approach problems, the way that they think outside of the box, the way that they can think about why they react the way they do to better communicate with stakeholders. And then, also, appreciation of that aesthetics and that visual connection you can make with other people.”
For example, Hower helped a student at Mariner from Venezuela come out of his shell and find his voice via the arts.
“He is one of our students that, through the arts, turned into somebody that — came from Venezuela, didn’t speak a whole lot of English — very outside his comfort zone, and has just really filled in to be the person he should be through his support of the arts,” Hower said.
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