Autumn Meadows Published

Ukuleles, Treats And Heartfelt Lessons: Andrea Nelson Earns Above And Beyond Award

A full body photo of an adult woman. She smiles for the camera while holding a Blenko Glass blue apple paperweight. Behind her are Christmas decorations.
Andrea Nelson is WVPB's Above and Beyond winner for December 2023.
Autumn Meadows/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Andrea Nelson, a fourth grade teacher from Lakewood Elementary in Kanawha County, earned West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Above and Beyond Award for December 2023, which recognizes excellence and creativity of Mountain State teachers.

Nelson was presented the award by WVPB’s Education Director Maggie Holley during a surprise assembly at Lakewood Elementary with the entire school and multiple family members in attendance. Vance received a monetary award and a signature Blenko Glass blue apple paperweight. The West Virginia State Treasurers’ Office sponsors the award, presenter of the SMART529 college savings program in the Mountain State.

Nelson was nominated by her mother, Leah Lewis, who was also an educator that taught music and show choir for 36 years. In Nelson’s nomination, her mother said her greatest skill is compassion. She shows it in her lessons, classroom management and with students throughout the school.

Two adult women, one older and one younger, stand next to each other in an embrace. Behind them are Christmas decorations.
Andrea Nelson (right) stands next to her mother, Leah Lewis. Nelson’s mother nominated her for WVPB’s Above and Beyond Award.

Credit: Autumn Meadows/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Nelson is the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) coordinator for Lakewood and through that, she plans ways to support the social and emotional needs of both teachers and students throughout the year. Her many goals for the program include team building initiatives to build relationships between staff, provide leadership opportunities for students, and overall help create a positive school culture.

Nelson’s classroom has a unique approach on social-emotional learning by including music and playing ukuleles. They’ll learn songs and play for staff members and students. They’ve even tried song writing! Nelson got the inspiration from a summer classroom training and was especially invested with her mother being a music teacher. Nelson said, “My dream is just play my guitar and ukulele at all times while I am teaching!”

In addition to ukuleles, Nelson’s class created a “Treat Yourself Day” inspired by the show Parks and Recreation, in which they show the benefits of a “treat yo’self” day. When students would hit a goal, they earn a school appropriate treat for the day. The students wanted to expand outside the classroom with this idea, and they designed ideas for snacks and drinks for classes that include music playing when they visit. “They wanted to make others feel special, and I knew the opportunity was so great that I would do whatever possible to make it happen.” 

The fun and creativity in Nelson’s classroom are endless. Like the ukuleles and treat cart, another idea had stemmed from the classroom but is now implemented schoolwide. This event is a lip sync concert that Nelson organizes the last week of school, and all students are allowed to participate. She said it is a great opportunity for students to support each other and practice coming out of their shell in front of their peers. Even the teachers participate!

Another special event at Lakewood is the Love Language Fair. Nelson said she thought of the idea after speaking with a community leader about giving students an opportunity to show love during Valentine’s Day that wasn’t your typical lesson. “I plan with students and my co-teacher on activities that help students understand their own love language and how they feel love. It’s a process of planning and organizing because the students run the activity based off their own love language interest. It’s open to everyone school wide and is one of the best days of the year!”

It’s not always music related with Nelson’s fourth grade class. They are also currently planning a wax museum with an American Revolution theme. Last year, the wax museum was with a play and the students were the historical figures from this time.

Not only does Nelson provide group activities for the students, but she also shows her compassion by eating lunches with individual students to better connect with them and provide a safe place. The students are always eager for their turn.

She also made a positive impact by having a morning Welcome Wagon at the end of the week to include all students and encourage them to start their day off right by telling each other good morning. You might even see teachers dancing in the hallway at this time, lifting spirits for everyone. “By doing things like this, it creates an aurora of happiness and unity that is indescribable. It creates a school that is a place where students and teachers look forward to things that are happening.”

“This is my 14th year teaching and I have enjoyed every second.  There are many things I love about teaching, but I do believe it’s a package deal. The teachers, students and administration all go together to make it great for me. I work with amazing teachers who are so inspiring, and the students are eager to learn each day. To be able to teach in an environment where you can just be yourself and be loved for it, is a wish I wish for everyone.”

Each month, WVPB has an esteemed panel of judges that select one deserving teacher who goes above and beyond for the students in West Virginia. If you know of a deserving teacher who goes “Above and Beyond,” please click here to nominate them.