BROWNSBURG, Ind. - Great education requires great dedication. That is a commitment the 2013 Indiana Teacher of the Year has made to help mold the next generation.
Suzanne Whitton, an art teacher at Delaware Trail Elementary School, traded colored pencils for a chance to make a difference on the political stage, lobbying for education in Indiana and the nation.
Whitton even had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama. She said none of it would be possible without a high school art teacher who looked her straight in the eye and asked her what she dreamed to be.
"I was struggling a little bit in other classes because I have dyslexia and I was like -- you know what? I would love to be someone like you!" Whitton said.
Her disability couldn’t slow her down. Whitton has four bachelor's degrees and a master's. She said a doctorate is next.
"It takes a team to raise a child and I'm a product of that -- and it's my job now to continue that cycle for our students in Indiana and help them out as best as we can," Whitton said.
Whitton’s art lessons aren’t limited to the classroom. She said a group of seventh-graders proposed a project to her called Art for the Heart.
The project is a way for students to use art to raise awareness about heart disease. She has distributed small paintings to cancer patients, veterans, nursing home residents and state lawmakers.
Last year she collected 5,000 paintings.
"If you give me those three characteristics: Great relationships with kids, an understanding of the curriculum and outstanding teaching methodologies, it's a recipe for success in the classroom," Superintendent of Brownsburg Community School Corporation Jim Snapp said.
Snapp said Whitton has that recipe for success and it shows on the faces of her students.
"As soon as they walk through that door, I know we're going to have fun and learn -- and we're all going to do the best we can together," Whitton said.
The Indiana Department of Education only receives applications for Teacher of the Year from a small fraction of the districts across Indiana.
Whitton said she will bring what she learns this year back to the classroom in August.
Scroll through the gallery below to see some Art for the Heart paintings given to RTV6 personnel by students from Eagle Elementary. Mobile users click here -- http://bit.ly/OktAiE