Heather King is always looking for ways to take her students beyond the walls of the classroom.
Whether it’s showcasing photos of her travels to expose her students to the wider world or taking her sixth-graders on a walk to The Frick Pittsburgh campus, King searches out new ways to share more with her students.
“My philosophy has always been to take my classroom outside of the four walls,” she says. “I took that and ran with it.”
Earlier this month, King was recognized with the Frick’s 2018 Roy A. Hunt Foundation Award for Commitment to Education in the Arts and Humanities. As part of the award, her school, Sterrett Classical Academy, will receive $3,000 to help defray the cost of future field trips and enrichment activities. Plus, students will receive 150 complimentary admission passes to Clayton, the Frick mansion.
For this outside-the-classroom type teacher, the award was an honor.
“She’s just one of those people who values giving her students a broader experience,” says Amanda Dunyak Gillen, director of learning and visitor experience at The Frick. “She’s always giving students opportunities, and she’s always up for anything.”
Jennifer Stumpp, a special education teacher, has worked alongside King for four years.
“She’s strict, but she’s caring,” Stumpp says. “She goes above and beyond for her students.”
King is a great leader, Stumpp says. When kids need extra motivation to do better, King sets up achievement rewards — like a buffalo chicken dip party or an ice cream party — to help them reach their goals.
“She does it all on her own,” Stumpp says. “She figures out what they like and what will motivate them and makes it happen.”
But King might say teaching is a prize in and of itself. She has wanted to be a teacher since third grade, inspired by Mrs. Dillon at Burchfield Elementary School. She was “so nurturing and super caring, I was like, ‘I want to be just like you when I grow up.’ ”
She followed her dream to the School of Education at Duquesne University, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary and secondary communication and a master’s in instructional technology.
Early on in her career, King formed a bond with Pittsburgh Public Schools. “It was the atmosphere,” she says. “We were able to do so many creative things with the kids.”
Eighteen years and four schools later she’s still finding innovative ways to teach.
Some were groundbreaking. While teaching at the now-shuttered Lemington Elementary School, for example, King had the opportunity to teach students and teachers alike about this new thing called the computer. At Lincoln Intermediate, she taught everything from math and technology to robotics.
King has been at Sterrett for four years and serves as an English language arts teacher and sixth-grade team leader.
With Sterrett as a magnet school, bringing in students from all parts of the city, King works to get the kids comfortable with one another. That means activities like trips to nearby Frick Park for obstacle courses, team building events and working with kids on their organizational skills.
As part of a partnership with The Frick Pittsburgh, two classes from Sterrett visit the museum campus once a month and engage in an activity that always includes a writing component.
Kids can relate things they’re learning in class to what they see at the museum, says King, who heads the initiative.
“It’s a great program,” she says.