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Stress Relief

Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Lucas, left, and Dee Jones, right

Lucas (left) stands with Vice President Deneese Jones after receiving the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Education in 2018.

Dedicated and highly lauded elementary teacher tackles more than the traditional three “Rs”

Andrea Lucas '02, '03, B.A. Economics and MAT

by Mary Denny

It’s no secret that the unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety children face today create a serious impediment to emotional growth and academic success. To help children struggling with “issues I can’t imagine facing as an adult,” fourth grade teacher Andrea Lucas ’02, ’03 and her colleagues at Lamar Elementary School in San Antonio ISD decided that social-emotional learning needed to be incorporated into the curriculum. “I definitely did not develop the approach,” says Andrea, “but our work is modeled on the work of many different educators.”

At Lamar, “Tiger Time” evolved as a model: a 25-30 minute block of time at the beginning of each school day when students are taught social-emotional skills. While the social-emotional curriculum is based on one from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, teachers create and plan individual lessons based on the needs of their particular students. The focus is on teaching a “growth mindset and character traits such as persistence, resilience, optimism, flexibility, and empathy,” Andrea says. Once students become familiar with the content, lessons are naturally woven into other classes throughout the day as situations arise.

As a campus leader of this curriculum, Andrea has traveled twice to Yale with teams from her school to further their knowledge of the curriculum and train other staff upon their return. “Students really enjoy Tiger Time,” Andrea says. “They like the routine of knowing this is how we start each day, and that our class is a venue to build relationships and work through challenges.”

Andrea has been intentionally teaching social-emotional skills for the last four years. “Sometimes on a day-to-day basis it’s difficult to see progress,” she admits, “but when I look at students who have been at Lamar for a longer period of time, I notice some amazing gains. Students who used to crumble in the face of setbacks are much more likely to have the tools to regulate their emotions.”

As an example, Andrea references a student she had when she taught third grade who could hardly read, sat under the table when asked to read, and had meltdowns when he didn’t like the cafeteria food. He moved with her to fourth grade and was finally beginning to show progress, when an apartment fire left his family homeless. The school community, including the fourth graders in his class, came together to offer financial, material, and emotional support to help the family weather the crisis. Now in sixth grade, the young boy has developed “amazing resilience as well as emotional and academic growth,” Andrea says, and is a “great example of how the thoughtful planning, dedication, and love of the educators in our school has really made a difference.”

This truly dedicated and excellent educator had not planned on a teaching career. As an economics major, she took “Economists in the Schools,” a course that sent students to elementary classrooms to teach basic economic concepts. She enjoyed the experience so much that she began taking education classes and ultimately entered Trinity’s MAT program. And children aren’t the only ones to benefit from Andrea’s gifts as a teacher: She co-taught the MAT summer school course for a number of years and has served as a mentor to interns completing their master’s in the Trinity program.

As stressful as teaching can be, Andrea draws inspiration from her coworkers, many of whom are also Trinity alumni. (They include Principal Brian Sparks ’04, M’05, M’11 and Associate Principal Roxanna Bazaldua M’14, among many other teachers and staff.) “We cheer each other on and the work they do with kids inspires me to be better,” Andrea says. “We also remind each other to have balance in our lives.” For balance and a break from the “never ending stream of school brain,” Andrea loves to swim, read, travel, and spend time with friends trying out new restaurants. She also is active in her church and enjoys visits to her family in Minnesota.

Andrea concedes that meeting the needs of all her students every day is her greatest challenge. “Students show up each day with such a variety of social, emotional, and academic needs, it would take a superhero to meet them all,” she says. “I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who often feels inadequate, and I strive to be better every day because the students deserve the best, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I have it all figured out.”

Nevertheless, Andrea has figured out enough to have won the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Teaching 2018, be honored as Elementary Teacher of the Year for SAISD 2017, and Region 20 Teacher of the Year 2018, and be named a finalist for Texas Teacher of the Year 2018. Acknowledging these prestigious honors, Andrea graciously notes, “These humbling awards have opened doors that have allowed me to advocate for students and educators in a myriad of ways. It has been such an honor to represent so many amazing educators.”

You may contact Andrea at alucas1 [at] saisd.net.