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Posted March 31, 2010

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Desert Ridge teacher honored for her work with autistic kids

Michele Hantzopoulos honored as Teacher of the Month

Michele Hantzopoulos considers it a privilege, though admittedly also a challenge, to work each day with a small group of autistic children at Desert Ridge Middle School. 

“It’s a pleasure I fell into,” said Hantzopoulos, who was named the APS Foundation/Pepsi Teacher of the month. “It’s been a blast. Every day, I can’t wait to get here and face the challenges – and there are challenges. My students are unique individuals, and I try to pull strengths from their personalities.” 

Hantzopoulos was surprised to be named Teacher of the Month during a faculty meeting this week. She received a check from Pepsi and the APS Education Foundation, which began recognizing APS teachers this year for their outstanding contribution to the classroom, school and community. The Foundation randomly selects one APS school each month, and that school’s principal is asked to choose a teacher to be honored. The teachers receive a $50 check from Pepsi and acknowledgement on the APS website and Facebook page. 

“Michele is truly an outstanding teacher,” said Desert Ridge Principal Todd Resch. “She works with high needs, low-functioning students who, in many cases, have few avenues of even communicating. Michele meets them where they are and brings them forward in their learning. She challenges them academically while at the same time providing the support they need to be successful in school and life.” 

Hantzopoulos began her career more than two decades ago as a special education teacher. After a few years in the classroom, she took time off to raise her own children. She slowly returned to the classroom, as a volunteer, substitute, educational assistant and then, three years ago, as the full-time teacher of eight autistic-specific children. 

“This is fascinating field,” she said. “I try to help kids succeed. It’s the biggest thing I do.” 

Hantzopoulos also works closely with her students’ parents, whom she has a great deal of respect for. 

“Her reputation is such now that families seek out our school so their students can be a part of her class. She is dedicated to her profession, our school, and most importantly, her students,” said Resch. 

Phill Casaus, executive director of the Foundation, said Hantzopoulous is representative of the many APS teachers dedicated to helping students who are unique and talented in their own ways. “I want to congratulate Michele and the staff at Desert Ridge who do so much for our kids,” he said.

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