Celebrating Strength: A Teacher’s True Calling

Giving back to our local community has always been part of our company’s culture. This core philosophy has fueled the launch of our CGI Heroes: Celebrating Strength, a contest to recognize four area residents who have gone above and beyond to help others during these challenging times with a $2,000 cash prize. It’s a way to honor and spotlight Miami-Dade and Broward County residents who are everyday heroes and nominated by their peers.

Related: Nominate Your Hero

One of those everyday heroes is Joan Saint-Hilaire, a kindergarten teacher at Whispering Pines Elementary School in Cutler Bay within Miami-Dade County. 

More Than Just the Curriculum 

When reflecting back, we all have that one favorite teacher who left an indelible impression on our lives. For Joan, that educator was Mrs. Dowdy, her fifth-grade teacher at Public School 111 in the Bronx. It’s that connection that guides her relationships with her students today.

A seasoned schoolteacher, Joan has been instructing students for 26 years. Even as a little girl tutoring her classmates, she knew her calling. Today, she’s fulfilling that destiny, creating a domino effect and paying it forward to so many students. Recently, Joan was nominated by two peers for our CGI Heroes: Celebrating Strength contest that highlighted her dedication to her students and unwavering passion for her job. 

Related: Submit Your Local Hero 

“I am so thankful to CGI for giving back to the community and paying it forward this way,” says Joan.

Not your typical teacher, Joan focuses on more than just the curriculum. “As a teacher, I help mold students and show them different ways to be good citizens,” says Joan. “I try to feed their soul and spirits – not just their minds. I feel they are my students for life, and I try to form a bond with them that goes beyond the classroom.”

Joan used to teach at a school close to Hard Rock Stadium where several children would come to school hungry. Joan purchased a mini refrigerator and filled it with milk, cereal and other snacks to ensure her students were well fed. To this day, she keeps a refrigerator stocked with snacks. “You have to feed the body to feed the mind,” Joan says. “I can’t stand to see a child hungry.”

Staying Connected Despite The Circumstances 

Over the last six months, teaching proved more difficult due to the lack of face-to-face connection. Joan got a Google voice number for parents to contact her and made short videos for her students to keep connected. She also drove by their homes with pamphlets and gift bags.

“I tried to find ways to still have a connection with my kids but in a safe way,” she says. “Now that we are back, we still have to be careful.”

Joan noticed a lot of students were coming back to school without the necessary school supplies. She began setting things aside and giving out items, such as pencils, crayons and composition notebooks.

When asked her favorite part of the job, her answer comes quickly and easily. “I do it for the children,” she says. “The students are so interesting, curious, excited and funny. They keep you young at heart. I feel like I am doing what I was meant to do.”

Related: Who Is Your Community Hero?

The Miami resident is married with two children, a 21-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter. In her spare time, you can find her watching movies, writing poems, trying new foods and traveling. But to Joan, leaving a lasting impact on her students is always utmost in her mind.

A True Community Hero

“I want my students to know that someone is in their corner that cares and sees the positive in them,” she says. “I feel that’s one of the things that I love about what I do, but the kids help me realize that I can make a difference. My goal is to leave a lasting legacy and a positive impact.”

Who comes to mind when you think of a local hero who has selflessly served your community? To nominate a hero by Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 4 p.m. EDT or for the full list of the rules and regulations, visit CGI Heroes: Celebrating Strength.

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