Hillcrest teacher wins statewide art educator award

Zanita Hendry [Courtesy of Marion County Public Schools]

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Posted November 2, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler

For 48 years, Hillcrest School never had an art program. Teacher Zanita Hendry has spent the past four years building an art program from the ground up to bring inclusion and creativity together.

Hendry, who has taught at Hillcrest for 11 years, has been chosen as the winner of the Adaptive Arts Educator Award from the Florida Art Education Association.

Hillcrest is a school specifically serving students with a variety of disabilities from grades six to 12. Hillcrest brings exceptional student education to the next level with programs designed to educate and train young people in mobility, communication and vocation.

“The students are extremely creative, and when given a safe space for them to explore that creativity, it really frees them of any judgment,” Hendry said.

Hendry started at Hillcrest as a paraprofessional in 2012. After getting her degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Central Florida by taking classes at night, she became a full-time teacher at the school.

Hendry said she worked with Marion County School Board Member Nancy Thrower, who strongly advocated for Hillcrest to have an art program and made it possible. Hendry was then elected to become the art teacher, which she said takes “heart.”

“My art room is free of any judgment, and it gives them a place to explore, learn and have some hands-on, creative learning activities that just help with the growth mindset to learn,” she said.

Hendry said that not going to art school has benefitted her by allowing her to have a broader view of what art is, which allows her to give her students more creativity.

“I do believe that I’m just more open minded when it comes to art for our kids because I don’t necessarily follow the rules of art,” she said. “I’m more open to what the kids bring to the table, what their idea of art is, rather than having this preconceived notion.”

Hendry said she looks forward to the big art show at the end of the year because it gives the students a chance to not only create art, but also to sell it.

“I wanted to give the students a chance for everyone’s art to shine, for everyone to have their moment in the sun,” she said.

Hendry said she was nominated for the award by her coworker Ashley Schroeder, who works at Hillcrest as a speech language therapy teacher.

“It feels good to be acknowledged for all the hard work and we do,” Hendry said.

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