As a founding teacher at Democracy Prep Congress Heights, LaMissha Hawkins has helped build scholars’ creativity through visual arts in her classroom for the past four years. In that same time, she’s also grown into a role model, a mentor, and has created an environment in her arts room that other teachers describe as a whole new world.

“When they [scholars] get into the art room, it’s like they’re in another world,” said Ulaka Harris, physical education teacher and athletic director at DPCH. “The high level of expectations and respect that the kids have in her classroom is a big highlight.”

For Ms. Hawkins, art is a way for scholars to express themselves in a way that they might not be able to in other classes. Part of that includes giving scholars freedom to try different things in their artwork, but also freedom to make mistakes in an environment that allows them to learn from them.

“I always tell them, I don’t want you to do Ms. Hawkins’ best; I don’t want you to do Picasso’s best; I want you to try your best,” Ms. Hawkins said. “I create that culture where it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you’re trying.”

One of the most rewarding aspects for Ms. Hawkins has been scholars’ increased confidence and interest in art. From hearing scholars talk about murals they saw in their neighborhood, to seeing them offer critiques and help each other with their work, Ms. Hawkins says it’s rewarding.

“When I hear them saying things I’ve said to them, especially when they encourage other people in the classrooms, that’s something that makes me say, ‘wow, I’m cultivating creative people,’” Ms. Hawkins said.  

While seeing her scholars grow creatively has been fulfilling, Ms. Hawkins also recognizes the responsibility of being a role model for them. She says she has many role models including her mother, but also reflects on the impact she will have on their lives, and the impact past teachers had on her life.

“You’re shaping and molding people and how they’re going to be as adults,” she said. “To this day, the things that I know, things that I say and do are because a teacher did that. The fact that I am that for someone is just powerful.”

Ms. Hawkins’ impact is something that is recognized by many, including Democracy Prep Congress Heights Middle School Campus Director, Brandon Werner.

“Scholars are able to express themselves and their creativity in her classroom and the result is amazing works of art that represent all of our scholars,” he said. “She is a role model for our scholars and truly embodies the DREAM values.”

Along with teaching her scholars, Ms. Hawkins has seen herself grow into a mentor for others. Ms. Harris said many teachers already view Ms. Hawkins as a mentor and someone they can go to for advice. But with the recent addition of a new arts teacher at DPCH, Ms. Hawkins said she has made it a goal to be able to serve as a coach and mentor.

“I like being able to also be a teacher for adults and help them out when they’re struggling because I know I struggled in my first and second year of teaching,” Ms. Hawkins said.

As her scholars continue to thrive, Ms. Hawkins said she still considers herself a continual learner and hopes to continue teaching for many years.

“No matter what the circumstances are, there is so much more in store for them,” she said. “I want them to see it, to know it, and obtain it. I want the best for them.”