Home Minnesota Educator Human Rights Award winners create welcoming learning spaces at Lakeville South

Human Rights Award winners create welcoming learning spaces at Lakeville South

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Lakeville South High School teachers Devin Hanson (2nd from left) and Leah Hood (2nd from right) are the recipients of Education Minnesota’s 2023 Human Rights Award. Pictured here with Education Minnesota officers this summer.

Two Lakeville educators, Leah Hood and Devin Hanson, were named Education Minnesota’s 2023 Human Rights Award recipients for their work fighting for and fighting with students to make sure they are seen, heard and valued.

“Mr. Hanson and Ms. Hood, they do a really great job of showing up and helping people to discover who you are and what you do at Lakeville South,” said Devin, a student at Lakeville South High School last spring, in a video interview.

Education Minnesota’s annual Human Rights Award recognizes an educator, local union or group of educators who has worked to protect educators’ and students’ human rights.

Hanson is an art teacher, who was also asked by Black student leaders like Devin to be the staff support for the Black Student Union.

Hood is a social studies teacher and mock trial coach who makes sure students know she is an ally and safe space for anyone who needs it.

“If they were only learning curriculum in their classes, (students) might not have that same kind of joy or light that comes to their face, but I can tell that (Ms. Hood) has done something special for them, and same for Mr. Hanson,” said Roshelle Roth, a Lakeville South English teacher.

“I think both of them give voice to our marginalized students in many ways,” said Rachel Malloy, a Lakeville South social studies teacher. “But I think it’s really important for all of our kids to see advocacy and to see that all voices matter.”

Hood and Hanson said they hope to create learning spaces where all students feel welcome and supported in little ways—like Hood wearing pins on her lanyard that have sayings of support for LBTBQ+ students and more—and big ways—like Hanson helping students organize and put on a large global culture night to highlight the beautiful diversity and voices found in their school.

“Ms. Hood’s classroom feels so safe because she’s always so welcoming,” said Elsie, a student at Lakeville South High School last spring. “Whenever she sees anything that’s slightly discriminatory or even the hint of somebody leaning toward more hatred in their language, she immediately shuts it down. And instead of just shutting it down and leaving it at that, she begins a conversation as to why.”

Hood said as a social studies teacher, she knows she has an opportunity to make students aware of the world around them—past and present.

“Making them aware of the real history, and hard history, is an important first step in trying to secure human rights for all of my students and all people around the world,” she said.

Hood said she isn’t afraid to take the risk of being honest with her students and is grateful for a supportive school administration team and the backing of her union. And her students tell her how grateful they are for the subjects she covers.

Hood and Hanson both are intentional about making sure students are not being overlooked and never hesitate to use their voices to stand up and speak for them, or to help them speak out.

The students at Lakeville South have a respect for Hood and Hanson because they know they have their back, said colleagues.

Hanson’s advocacy stretches from advocating for students and who they are, but as a teacher, he provides the tools students need in their every day lives to express themselves.

“Mr. Hanson definitely creates and fosters a safe spot, so kids can come in and their academics can really shine through, and they can soar as students,” said Nick Fox, Lakeville South dean of students.

Hanson said it all comes down to relationships and respect when it comes to having the trust of all students and seeing them for who they are and how they come into his classroom.

“Those relationships are key to knowing how to identify what your students need and how to build them up individually, depending on what they are striving for,” he said.

Colleagues have seen students gravitate toward Hanson’s classes.

“I have a student that he has and is maybe kind of disconnected from school but has found his niche in his art classes,” said Malloy. “I think he genuinely saves lives of kids.”

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