What’s even more exciting for a school than one Teacher of the Year? Two!
Atlanta Girls’ School is celebrating educators Melissa Hankinson and Cara Reese who were recently named 2023-24 Upper School Teacher of the Year and 2023-24 Middle School Teacher of the Year, respectively, by the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA). Hankinson and Reese, chosen among independent school nominees across the state of Georgia, claimed their awards on November 6 at the GISA Annual Conference hosted by Strong Rock Christian School in Locust Grove, marking the first time in school history that two teachers were named in the same year.
“It was such a surprise,” science teacher Hankinson said of the award, “but it speaks to the caliber of teachers in this [AGS] community.” As a member of the AGS faculty since 2011, Hankinson endeavors to empower girls in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and environmental fields. As part of the award selection process, she wrote about her desire to “open doors to close the gap” in gender representation in STEM. Although AGS is a smaller school, Hankinson said, “we offer phenomenal opportunities for women in STEM, meeting them where they are and opening doors.”
Reese, who has taught for 20 years and is in her third year at AGS as a humanities teacher, said “to think this can happen is pretty exciting especially for people who look like me.” Reese, a third-generation educator, said the award selection process afforded her the opportunity to reflect on why she teaches, a practice in which she incorporates project-based learning, constructivist education, social studies curriculum development, and integrated studies. “It’s nice that [AGS] sees value in what I’m doing,” Reese said. “When you do the work and stick with it, it can unfold.”
Both Hankinson and Reese carry their passion for education beyond the classroom and co-chaperoned a trip for students to visit and explore Panama last year. Hankinson is an advocate of outdoor education, often leading students to settings where they can learn about and explore nature. She plans to take a group of learners on an excursion to travel down the Chattahoochee River and dreams of a journey to Sapelo Island to support students in learning about the Gullah people. She is also proud of her work with AGS students, three of whom are working together on an ecological restoration project in Atlanta. “My students tell me how I have inspired them to pursue a STEM career because of the joy, curiosity and confidence I helped them cultivate,” Hankinson said. “My individual work and mindset is an extension of my environment, which is the magic of this place. This community is unique in the way it can build up teachers, who can then inspire students.”