Alumni Spotlight: Helen Hillis

    Alumni Spotlight

    Meet Helen Hillis, New City School Class of 2004


    High School – Visitation Academy

    College - Marquette University, Double Major in International Affairs and Spanish

    Graduate School – Currently working on Masters in Education from Johns Hopkins University.

    Profession – 7th and 8th grade Spanish Teacher in Atlanta, GA, placed at Sandy Springs Charter Middle School through Teach for America

    New City School Alumna, Helen Hillis, is making a difference in the field of education. Helen found her way to her current appointment, as the 7th and 8th grade Spanish teacher at Sandy Springs Charter Middle School in Atlanta, GA, through Teach for America. This nonprofit organization aims to enlist, develop, and mobilize our nation's most promising future leaders, and to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence. In practical terms, Teach for America trains and places young educators like Helen in high-needs schools, often located in low-income urban or rural areas. (Incidentally, the current Vice President of National Community Alliances for Teach for America is another New City alum, Brittany Packnett– class of 1996.)

    Though Teach for America only requests a two-year commitment, Helen has decided to continue to work at Sandy Spring, serving as a positive role model to a generation of young students. When asked why she decided to pursue a career in education, specifically why she chose to serve as an educator in an underserved community, Helen identifies New City School as one of her first inspirations. When reflecting “on how racial, socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious diversity were represented and portrayed . . . at New City,” Helen acknowledges that her appreciation for diversity in her students at Sandy Springs started with her own elementary school. “Looking back now,” Helen says, “I am grateful to have had a foundational education in an environment that valued and celebrated diversity.”

    Helen also acknowledges New City as a foundation in developing her teaching skills. As an educator, she considers the Multiple Intelligences curriculum every day. “If a student is struggling with an activity or topic, I recognize how I can harness their Multiple Intelligences to master a particular concept. It automatically pushes me to see an inherent value in everyone I meet.”

    Helen’s own education has brought her into a wide variety of classrooms, from her high school years at Visitation Academy through to graduate school at Johns Hopkins; for Helen, these varied experiences highlighted a number of notable differences between New City and other institutions. “My New City education pushed me to ask questions my classmates did not ask. Because so much of the curriculum at New City covered vital but less recognized pieces of our history and society, I questioned their absence in my high school curriculum. I was not afraid to think critically about what information was provided to us and what was not. The confidence New City developed in me enabled me to participate in these discussions with my teachers and classmates.”

    Outside of teaching, Helen is an accomplished Irish Dancer and avid world-traveler. Her dancing skills have taken her to international competitions; she has studied abroad in Chile; she completed a work/study program India, and has also helped organize several service trips to New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.

    When asked what advice she would give to parents in search of an elementary school, Helen simply says, “If you are looking for a community that will develop confidence, compassion, curiosity, and a persistent sense of self-worth in your child, New City is the place for your family.” Speaking to her personal experience, Helen says that children at New City are more than just “kids”– that during her time here, she “felt valued and empowered,” because, as a student, she was a “trusted agent of change, rather than a box waiting to be checked.” Perhaps the finest recommendation Helen can offer the school is that, for her, New City turned out to be the beginning of her own career in teaching.