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West Jordan Journal

Copper Hills teacher recognized as a Life Changer

Jan 31, 2022 02:59PM ● By Jet Burnham

For years, Andrea Hinojosa has arranged history trips to San Francisco and New York for students. (Photo courtesy of McKenzie Catten.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

The effect U.S. history teacher Andrea Hinojosa has had on hundreds of students in the past 11 years is well documented in the thank-you notes she receives from current and former students and in her nomination by colleagues that recently earned her a Life Changer of the Year Award.

“She is that teacher that her former students think about when they reflect on the people that have had a positive influence on their lives,” colleague McKenzie Catten said. “I have been a firsthand witness to her changing lives, including my own. I see her work with students every day, but she doesn't just teach them. She cares about them, actively tries to get to know them and fosters meaningful relationships in a variety of different ways.” 

Making connections with students is Hinojosa’s teaching style. Her classroom and lessons are arranged to allow her to move among her students and engage in conversations with them. She provides treats and good humor to those having a hard day, and she helps talk down kids who are stressed.

“I hope that they do understand that at the end of the day, I care way more about them and that they know that they are loved, that they know that they're cared for, than I do about their test scores,” Hinojosa said.

One student shared her experience.

“I took her course during some of the most trying months of the pandemic, when both educators and students were under incredible amounts of stress," the student said. "Understanding how difficult it was for her students to consistently work at high levels in her class because of the circumstances, Ms. Hinojosa met each of her students where they were at and helped them succeed to the best of their ability. She would allow for time in class where we could process the sometimes-traumatic events occurring in our community and country as a group instead of ignoring the context in which we were learning. If she could sense our class was in a mental state that would prevent us from learning productively, she would give us grace in the moment but continue pushing us forward in the subsequent days.”

Colleagues have watched Hinojosa work long hours and spend her own money to plan engaging lessons and enriching experiences for her students.

Colleague Steve Haslam said it is obvious that Hinojosa is “insanely invested in her job, in her students, and in our school.”

“Andrea will always go above and beyond to make sure her students have the best learning material possible,” Haslam said. “Students at our school are so lucky to have a teacher who will sacrifice so much to see them succeed and to be the best versions of themselves.”

Students said Hinojosa is supportive and invested in them, whether it is encouraging them to take the AP test or telling them about an internship opportunity.

"She has sent me scholarship opportunities and leadership opportunities on numerous occasions that she felt like I could succeed with,” a former student said.

Catten said Copper Hills High School is lucky to have Hinojosa, because not only is she a phenomenal teacher for students but because she also has a profound effect on her colleagues.

“She is highly respected by her colleagues because she encourages them and helps them develop new skills so that they, too, can be life changers in their classrooms,” Catten said.

Haslam said, “When I work directly with Andrea, I know she makes me want to be the best version of myself.” 

Administrator Jim Groethe said Hinojosa made an impression on him the very first time he met her.

“What impressed me about her in that very first meeting was her explicit and expressed desire to improve,” he said. “Throughout the five years I spent at Copper Hills, Andrea continued to impress me by consistently seeking feedback and better practices from her peers, both school and districtwide, as well as school administration. That sincere desire, that recognition and reflection, is the critical element that makes Andrea a 'Life Changer.' It makes her human to those students and peers who are in need of connection and something real and tangible through that experience in Andrea's classroom. These days, we seem to all refer to that vulnerability as Brene Brown-esque, and it is one of the key character traits of great educators. She has it.”

Amanda Campos first got to know Hinojosa when they were on a professional development committee together. She was impressed with her attitude about professional development.

“Andrea mentioned that she did not want to run ‘out of speed’ or ‘get burned out’ of her job, so she wanted to volunteer her time to keep her professional fire up,” Campos said. “I was impressed with her when I saw her teach different scaffolding and engagement strategies to other teachers in a professional development workshop. I learned more from Andrea in that workshop than I did in any other scaffolding workshop.”

Catten said what makes Hinojosa an exemplary life changer is her compassion for others. When Catten was overwhelmed with having to move her classroom, she said Hinojosa and her daughter showed up to help, even though she barely knew her.

“I knew then that she was someone very special and someone who genuinely cares about other people,” Catten said.

Campos said Hinojosa does a lot of anonymous service in the school and community.

“She asks for nothing and just sees something and does it,” she said. “She has the initiative to act when something needs to be done. Her service is beyond anyone I have ever met.”

When Campos and her family were facing overwhelming health problems, Hinojosa coordinated colleagues, friends and neighbors to take in meals for her family. She set up a fundraiser to help pay for unforeseen bills. She visited Campos even when she said she was not up for visitors.

“She does not know how much that meant to me, to have someone to just talk to when the world seemed to be crumbling around me,” Campos said. “She truly is a blessing for us. I know she is a blessing for others as well.”

Hinojosa said it was the way her mom raised her: to notice the needs of those around her and to lend help when she can.

“It's so hard to ask for help,” Hinojosa said. “And we've all been in that position where we don't want to ask for help, but we know we need it. So I just learned not to give people a choice.”

Hinojosa is also an advocate and a problem-solver.

“She doesn’t simply throw her hands up in the air and give up when a challenge arises, but she takes steps to actively solve the problem,” Catten said.

Hinojosa was one of the founding members of the CHHS Writing Center, which, according to Catten, “has helped facilitate a change in the culture of the school as one that seeks to support all students’ academic needs.”

“When Andrea has a project she is interested in, she pours her heart into it,” Campos said. “She strives to better all students, not just her own in the classroom.”

Hinojosa almost didn’t become a teacher. She started a business career before deciding to refocus on her childhood dream to be a teacher, which was inspired by her eighth grade history teacher. Despite the pay cut, she said she finally found professional fulfillment in teaching. She enjoys the autonomy and creativity she has to plan lessons that engage her students.

Colleagues and students at West Jordan Middle, where she began her teaching career, and at Copper Hills High, where she currently teaches, have had their lives changed by Hinojosa.

“When I first met Andrea, we were coworkers,” Campos said. “Then we became colleagues. We got to know each other and became close friends. Now, I can say without a doubt that I feel Andrea is closer than a friend. She is a sister to me. I would give this award to Andrea—plus a million other awards for her dedication, love and passion towards this profession. Don’t we all want teachers like Andrea to teach and love our children?”