Cynthia Draper teaches third-grade students at Brookhollow Elementary the importance of working together. In her recent Martin Luther King Jr. project, students colored separate squares that fit together in a mosaic depicting hands in a heart with the “I have a dream” motif.
“That’s what MLK is all about: putting the pieces together to make equal parts,” Draper said.
Draper said she did the project to demonstrate ways to help each other change the world, like Martin Luther King Jr., working together.
“I didn’t tell them which skin tones to use on the hands — the lighter pinks and different shades of browns,” Draper said. “It brought the whole concept together. I got so excited when I saw it.”
Draper is from Hallsville, where she attended school PreK through 12th grade. She played flute in the marching band and even got to go to New York and Washington, D.C., on a senior band trip.
She was the youngest of three and loved horses growing up. Her mother taught her to ride, and she loved her horse Nugget, named that because the horse’s color was the same as a chicken nugget.
“I love horses. I love when they run,” Draper said. “It feels like flying. We don’t have enough space now for a horse.”
After high school, Draper went to Angelina College for a semester and then to Stephen F. Austin State University. She lived with her grandparents in San Augustine and worked at her grandfather’s dentist office. She liked science and thought she might become a dentist. She said her parents wanted her to become a dentist.
“When I was at my grandpa’s, I worked and learned, and I didn’t want to be in people’s mouths all day,” Draper said with a laugh.
She took Algebra, and it was easy for her, so the professor asked her to help other students in the class. It was then that she realized she liked teaching. Even though she didn’t become a dentist like her grandfather, she followed in the steps of her grandmother, who was an educator for many years at San Augustine ISD.
Draper met her husband Chris at church.
“My grandparents went to a small church in San Augustine, and my grandpa said, ‘You need to go where there are college students,’ so I went to Stallings Drive Church of Christ and met Chris,” she said. “He asked me to go eat fish and I said, ‘No.’ I’m picky about my fish!”
Chris was a history teacher in Center, and after the fish incident the two started to hang out. Now the couple has a 3-year-old son named Ryan, and baby James is due Feb. 8. Chris works for Lufkin ISD as a ninth-grade principal at Lufkin High School.
Cynthia Draper said what makes teaching worthwhile is the “Aha” moments.
“We had one just the other day,” she said.
She told the story of a third grader explaining a concept to another student in the class.
“He said, ‘Oh, I get it now!’ I love when they learn from each other,” Draper said.
Teaching third grade can be challenging.
“It’s the first year to take the STAAR test. It’s fast-paced, it’s constant,” Draper said.
Second semester is Draper’s favorite.
“For some reason, they come back after Christmas as a different person,” she said. “It’s like a switch flipped. I love seeing the growth.”
One thing that helps Draper be an understanding teacher is that she identifies with students who may have dyslexia and/or ADHD because she does, too.
“I’m open about it. I know the signs,” she said. “There are a lot of dyslexic students.”
Draper is involved on campus at Brookhollow helping out as a UIL coach for storytelling. Before her pregnancy, she worked the afterschool program.
When she’s not at school, she enjoys crafting, rounding up her two dogs (chocolate lab Coco and golden retriever Buddy), playing with Ryan and getting ready for baby James.
The family is planning a trip to Niagara Falls this summer.
Draper’s advice to future teachers: “You’re not going to get it right the first time. There’s always something new, always changing. When you’re flexible, it makes kids shine. It’s a hard job but it’s rewarding.”