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White House Honors 2015 Teacher Of The Year: Shanna Peeples
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White House Honors 2015 Teacher Of The Year: Shanna Peeples

Education

White House Honors 2015 Teacher Of The Year: Shanna Peeples

White House Honors 2015 Teacher Of The Year: Shanna Peeples
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Shanna Peeples works at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas. Most of the students come from poor families. Some are refugees from East Africa — coming through the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The week's news also includes this - the White House honored the national teacher of the year. She is Shanna Peoples. She works at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas. Most kids at that school are poor and many are refugees. Amarillo is popular for resettlement because feedlots and slaughterhouses provide jobs, but that reality also provides challenges for teachers like Peoples. Jennifer Schmidt reports.

JENNIFER SCHMIDT, BYLINE: When East African refugees began arriving at Palo Duro High School a few years ago, Shanna Peoples went online to learn more about them.

SHANNA PEOPLES: Many of them come through the Kikuma refugee camp in Kenya, which is really just, like, a windswept patch of dirt, a tarp and an open flame. That helped me to understand that this was going to be way different than any kind of teaching I'd ever done in my life.

SCHMIDT: And it's been a challenge, she says.

PEOPLES: I couldn't even sit down with them and read, like, a children's book if it mentioned, for example, a kitchen because kitchen is not a concept even that they had.

SCHMIDT: She also had to gain their trust. These are kids who've been through severe trauma, but Peoples says her own childhood growing up in a violent household helps her connect. Peoples also instructs in the high school's evening program. Her night students range from pregnant girls trying to graduate early to kids coming out of juvenile tension.

PEOPLES: And probably most unfortunately I have students who don't do day school because they have to work. They are the only ones who can pay the bills in the family. So they work in the daytime and they come and do their credits at night school.

SCHMIDT: Peoples says she knows it sounds corny, but one of her most important jobs is to make every student feel valued.

PEOPLES: That's what we all need. We need kindness. We need understanding, and we need a sense of belonging. Kindness is probably my first and best lesson.

SCHMIDT: Shanna Peoples will spend the coming year visiting schools around the country. Then, she says, she plans to continue doing what she does best - teaching. For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Schmidt.

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