Teacher’s passion for refugee students earns her 2011 Innovator of the Year

September 2, 2011

Mead Elementary School Teacher Kerry Haupert, who has devoted the past three years of her life to working with refugee students, couldn’t stop the tears after she was named Northside ISD’s 2011 Innovator of the Year. 

“I can’t believe I received an award for doing what I love and what is right for students. I am so blessed and honored,” said Haupert, an ESL teacher. “This means that more people in the district are becoming aware of these wonderful students that we are so blessed to have in Northside ISD.”

Haupert’s award, which was a surprise, was announced at the District’s annual Administrator Institute in late July. She thought she had been invited to speak on a panel about her work with refugee students; instead she received a standing ovation from Northside administrators, many of whom were wiping away their own tears after hearing why Haupert was selected as Innovator of the Year.   

The Innovator of the Year award is named for former Northside Superintendent Ed Rawlinson, and is presented annually by the Northside Education Foundation to a Northside employee whose creative idea improves his or her school or the district, and is ground-breaking, efficient, cost-effective, and timely.

Haupert was honored for creating two programs that serve refugee children and their families: the Northside Newcomer Program and the Project Tumaini family literacy project. She has raised more than $140,000 in grant money to benefit this unique population.

For Haupert, working with refugee students and their families is not just a job, but a passion. It’s a passion that began when the first refugee, or newcomer, families began arriving at Mead from war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East. The school had to provide instruction for students with limited or no schooling and who did not speak English, and yet were still expected to pass state assessment tests.

Haupert and school leaders quickly realized that newcomer students needed a separate class, curriculum and structure from traditional students. Haupert developed a teaching model to provide customized academic support to the students as well as social and cultural support for the entire newcomer family. The model has been implemented at Colonies North and Glenoaks elementary schools, which also have high numbers of refugee students.

Haupert’s commitment to refugee children reaches far beyond the school day. Because children at Mead speak more than 26 languages and come from countries that consider each other enemies, it was critical for Haupert to establish a sense of camaraderie among her students. Haupert founded – and coaches – the school’s first refugee basketball team, and she started a Girl Scout Troop.

The phrase “it takes a village” is a way of life for Haupert. She organizes an annual shoe drive, and volunteers year-round to help out families in a variety of ways, such as driving a child to a doctor’s appointment.

Haupert is moving to Hobby Middle School this year so she can continue working with newcomer students.

“Working with the newcomers has not only changed me as an educator, but also as a person,” she said. “They have taught me about culture, language, religion, and to appreciate every little thing in life. As an educator I have changed for the better because the newcomers have opened my eyes.” 

Haupert was nominated for the Innovator of the Year award by Mead Elementary School Principal Rebecca Barron-Flores, who also arranged for Haupert’s mother, sister, niece and nephew to be in attendance for the award presentation.