The first day of school for the kids staying in ACH’s Pat O'Neal Youth Emergency Shelter was an eventful day. It happened to coincide with the solar eclipse. So their teacher, Mr. Hanke, had something special planned for them. When the eclipse was at its fullest, he led the kids outside and passed around a pinhole camera, his welding helmet and solar eclipse glasses—everyone had a way to join in. While this might have been a special event to kick off the semester, for Mr. Hanke, it’s just another way to engage with his students.
Steve Hanke has been teaching the kids at ACH’s youth shelter for four years now, half of his teaching career. He’s certified in Special Education as well as History. He regularly jokes with his students while imparting knowledge, all with a twinkle in his eye. And he makes genuine connections with his students, even if they have different backgrounds.
“Working with the Youth Emergency Shelter allows me to directly impact over 125 students a year in a small group atmosphere,” he says. “The vision is to ‘Ignite in each student the passion for learning,’ so we can achieve our goal of preparing students for success in college, careers and community leadership.”
Mr. Hanke firmly believes that every kid he teaches at ACH is special and can succeed, even if they might not feel that way because of circumstances in their lives. So it is Mr. Hanke’s mission to create a positive learning environment.
“My challenge is to find in each student that one thing that will grab their interest,” he says. “And I can never forget that they are smarter than me! I facilitate learning when we have a classroom structure that values and appreciates them. Only then will they open their minds to learning.”
He also works to build a sense of community, helping the kids feel accepted, which Mr. Hanke feels leads directly to learning. Because the kids are in different grade levels and often use a computer learning system, it can be difficult to create lesson plans to engage all of them. That’s why Mr. Hanke created two important morning rituals.
Each day starts with a lesson about “This Day in History,” where the kids try to test their knowledge of events, and a tidbit about which “National Day” it is. (National Grilled Cheese Day and National Ice Cream Day are big hits, Mr. Hanke says.)
“These routines allow them opportunities to tell us what they already know or get them interested in learning more about what we have discussed,” Mr. Hanke says. “Mostly, it provides a time of healthy community.”
Making a difference
The special moments in Mr. Hanke’s classroom come when the kids realize that they might be able to catch up and get the credits they need to graduate from high school. He says he’s had to ask some kids to take a break because they want to keep working. He says they’re all able to have a good laugh when he teases them and says he might have to throw them out of class for working too hard.
And while the kids in Mr. Hanke’s class might change often and saying goodbye is his least favorite part of teaching, he focuses on the brighter moments.
“My favorite part about teaching is seeing the moments where they laugh and enjoy this class for what it is,” he says.
ACH thanks Mr. Hanke and the Fort Worth Independent School District for ensuring the ongoing education of the 10-17 year olds temporarily in the care of our Youth Emergency Shelter because they’re experiencing a crisis, homelessness or have survived trafficking.