Fourth-grade teacher at The Greene School
Kristina Hambrock epitomizes The Greene School’s mission of nurturing children by addressing their mental and emotional health along with academics. “It’s about empathy in the classroom and feeling safe, heard, and respected,” says Hambrock, who teaches fourth grade at the West Palm Beach private school.
Now in her tenth year of teaching, Hambrock notes that she is more passionate than ever—despite the sometimes overwhelming problems facing both teachers and students. To that end, The Greene School is participating in a pilot study to address how stress affects student achievement. Created by a former high school teacher, WellCheq is a check-in app where students can share how they’re feeling each day, and teachers can use that information to connect with them and hopefully address stressors. The timing couldn’t be better, Hambrock says. “This year especially, we’re having conversations about the pandemic, gun violence, and racism—topics that I wouldn’t think 9- and 10-year-olds are prepared to discuss—and they have very strong opinions.”
Pranati Kumar Skomra
Founder and Educator at Rohi’s Readery
Committed to rewriting her painful past as an Indian immigrant struggling to assimilate, Pranati “Pranoo” Kumar Skomra is helping little ones celebrate what makes them unique at Rohi’s Readery in The Square in West Palm Beach. At the social justice–oriented children’s bookstore, Kumar Skomra creates a safe space for marginalized communities and racial and ethnic minorities, while also educating others to the plights these groups face.
“I experienced oppression and racism growing up while trying to honor my heritage,” she says. “It felt like we were fighting for the American dream while being kept out of it.”
A mother of two, Kumar Skomra pursued a childhood dream of becoming a pediatrician before realizing her true calling and pivoting toward education. Kumar Skomra taught pre-K through fourth grade at charter schools in New York City—where she also coached teachers and wrote curricula—and helped found Seattle’s first elementary charter school serving immigrant and refugee populations.
In 2021, she opened her lively 1,000-square-foot bookstore, where kids of all ages can explore titles that promote literacy, diversity, and inclusion. Named for her grandmother, Rohi’s Readery is also a hub of community activity, where families can gather for free programming in honor of Disability Pride Month, Black History Month, and more. “It’s all about being seen and loved,” adds Kumar Skomra.
Eleventh-Grade U.S. History Teacher at Dreyfoos School of the Arts
Bringing history to life is at the heart of Kate Sheridan’s success as an educator—and why her eleventh-grade advanced placement (AP) students at the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach have the highest pass rates in the district.
“I love our nation and its rich, diverse culture,” says the New York native who began teaching at Dreyfoos in 2016. “Every day we’re watching history happen—from changes with respect to gun rights and voting practices to Roe v. Wade. By knowing history, you can understand current events in a more informed light.”
Within her classroom, Sheridan aims to create an inclusive forum conducive to spirited conversations, even on sensitive topics. “Discussions are most effective when it’s not about picking sides,” she says. “My passion for our country is infectious; [it’s] why I’ve earned the trust and attention of my students.”
Third-Grade Teacher at J.C. Mitchell Elementary School
Described by peers as a natural-born educator, Megan Jones prioritizes connecting with her third-grade students above all else—meeting them on their level as budding learners and helping them navigate their evolving world. “Recognizing that their emotional landscape is growing along with their intellect and learning ability is key,” says the Florida native who began teaching at J.C. Mitchell Elementary School in Boca Raton five years ago.
“To be entrusted with these sweet, loving little human beings is such a gift—and a responsibility,” she continues. “I feel so lucky to have this opportunity seven hours a day to help nurture and equip my kids both intellectually and emotionally.”
Jones begins each school day with a brief social emotional learning (SEL) morning meeting, which the School District of Palm Beach County developed to help students tap into and express their feelings. She might, for example, create a heart shape with her hands when greeting her class and then lead them in an exercise where they portray an animal using movement but no sound. Activities such as these convey social awareness and encourage students to consider others’ perspectives. “Now more than ever it’s vital that kids have safe adults and outlets to talk about their feelings, which is integral to their learning,” she adds.
Director of Instrumental Arts at The King’s Academy
For Wes Lowe, overseeing the instrumental arts program at The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach is second nature. Not only is the school his alma mater, but it is his mother’s and siblings’ as well. “Our family appreciates the culture of excellence here,” says Lowe.
The Grammy-nominated educator introduces students from fourth grade through high school to the world of music. “Seeing a child’s eyes light up when they play their first note gives me tremendous satisfaction,” says Lowe, who teaches more than 12 instruments—from keyboard, strings, and woodwinds to brass, percussion, and vocals. Each one fosters developmental skills for early learners and contributes to a symphony of mental and emotional growth as children age.
“Music is like gym class for the brain,” Lowe notes. “It’s surprising to see what happens when you place a musical instrument in a student’s hands and [they] produce something larger than themselves. By the time they’re seniors they realize they’ve learned more than just music.”
Music Teacher at Citrus Cove Elementary School
Adina Kerr’s passion as an educator goes beyond the colorfully decorated Boynton Beach classroom where she teaches music fundamentals to 5- through 11-year-olds. “Elementary school is a magical time in a child’s life,” Kerr says. “By teaching them music basics they have the building blocks to learn anything.”
Kerr, who was raised in New Jersey and moved to Florida in 2005, is known for her ability to connect with at-risk students. “Seeing a child open up is one of my greatest joys because I know where that beginning can lead,” she says.
Kerr also devotes countless hours of personal time to creating after-school programs and opportunities. She recently secured a grant from the city of Boynton Beach for a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) exploration lab featuring everything from state-of-the-art computers and art supplies to a piano lab. “When you provide a nurturing environment that can highlight a child’s interests and talents you make them feel valued and successful,” she concludes.
Location: Capehart Photography, Palm Beach
Hair and makeup: Deborah Koepper, Deborah Koepper Beauty, Palm Beach
Props: The Special Event Resource and Design Group, West Palm Beach