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Silver Spring Educator Named 'Most Hopeful Teacher In America'

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Mary Hawkins-Jones, center, flanked by current and former students.
Armando Trull
Mary Hawkins-Jones, center, flanked by current and former students.

The Gallup organization has spent the past three years surveying hope among more than million students. Nearly 200 schools in America are full of "high hope" students, according to their poll, and one Maryland teacher was distinguished with the "Most Hopeful Teacher in America Award."

"Six simple questions looking at how hopeful someone is about the future, whether they have the way to get in their lives from point A in their life to point B, and whether they can maintain the will and the agency they need to get all that done," says Shane Lopez, a senior scientist with Gallup, describing hopeful students.

So Gallup went looking for the teachers responsible for this "agency". They interviewed principals, teachers, students and parents and came up with a short list. Out of that list, they found Mary Hawkins-Jones at Westover Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md — a fifth grade educator who has been igniting hope as part of her curriculum for more than two decades.

"All of us have hope inside of us, but sometimes it has to be reignited," says Hawkins-Jones. "A kind word or a kind gesture can help reignite that hope."

Former student Cristina Urlich, wasn't surprised to hear that Hawkins-Jones had been awarded the first ever "Most Hopeful Teacher In America" award. Urlich was once a first-grader in Hawkins-Jones classroom. Now, as an educator with the Montgomery County school system, she was recently named Teacher of the Year. For that, she credits her former teacher and now colleague.

"She was the one who created that foundation for me as a first grade student, that I had to accomplish my goals through hard work and effort," Urlich says.

Hawkins-Jones says she's humbled by the award and poses a questions for those teachers who prefer to just focus on the curriculum.

"If you're in a dark room, can you learn anything? Hope brings light," she says.

MCPS has included hope as a significant part of its new Strategic Planning Framework, which will guide the work of the district in the years to come.

The Framework is built around the three competencies that students need for success in the 21st century — Academic Excellence, Creative Problem Solving, and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). One way MCPS will monitor SEL is through the results of the Gallup Student Survey, which is given annually and measures hope, engagement, and well-being.

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