By Lily Bruce
Hannah Gadd Ardrey has brought an unmatchable amount of joy through music to the Oxford and Lafayette communities. Ardrey was named the 2019 Mississippi Teacher of the Year, but her journey teaching music is so much more than her title.
Ardrey devotes her love of music to her mother, who recently passed away. Her mother was also a choir teacher and has become Ardrey’s inspiration in life.
“I grew up hiding underneath the piano at my mom’s choir concerts and school plays,” said Ardrey. “I was painfully shy as a child, but my mom was the firecracker that could light up an entire sky.”
She continuously saw her mother pour her soul into teaching, and she became Ardrey’s embodiment of her Teacher of the Year platform – M.U.S.I.C – Motivate, Transform and Sculpt Independent Citizens.
When Audrey’s mother passed away in December of 2017 after her second battle with acute myeloid leukemia, Ardrey was blown away with the amount of support she received from fellow teachers and the community as a whole.
Ardrey was also shocked by the number of her mother’s past students who showed up to celebrate her mother’s life.
“This was when I realized the true impact a teacher could have on others,” said Ardrey. “Not only were her students there to show their love for her and for my family, but my students, colleagues, and administrators were there for me.”
Ardrey never wanted to be a music teacher, she said. She actually wanted to be a doctor. However, Ardrey soon found herself at the University of Mississippi studying music and following her mother’s legacy teaching music.
After receiving her master’s degree in 2015, Ardrey stayed in the LOU community.
“I was blessed to be offered my dream job at Lafayette High School where I’d student-taught under my mentor-turned-friend Kim Gregory,” she said.
Four years later Ardrey was named the 2019 Mississippi Teacher of the Year. At the ceremony for Ardrey’s achievement, one of her mom’s favorite songs “For Good” from Wicked was performed. This was not planned.
“When I heard this song at the ceremony, I lost it,” said Ardrey. “I knew it was her spirit saying, ‘I am so proud of you. I am here!’”
Ardrey’s commitment and dedication to the community goes beyond her Mississippi Teacher of The Year status. Ardrey is also a member of the Alumni Advisory Committee for the Mississippi Beta Chapter of Pi Beta Phi.
As part of this committee, Ardrey is able to work with college-age women who are as ecstatic to help children as she is. Pi Beta Phi’s philanthropy is called “Read, Lead, Achieve” and focuses on teaching younger generations the importance of literacy.
“During Read Across America week, I was able to read for Mrs. Kelley Hunter’s class at Lafayette Elementary School,” said Ardrey. “Even though I am a music teacher, I see how music can take students to another world and escape reality just like a good book can.”
While serving on the advisory committee, Ardrey also works hand-in-hand with a collegiate executive council member. Kelsey Baich, a 2020 Ole Miss graduate of the School of Education, is one of many Pi Phi members Ardrey has advised.
Baich never realized how her relationship with Ardrey would go beyond her just being an advisor.
“As time went on, she became a mentor for me, not only in Pi Phi but also in my academic career as I am pursuing education,” said Baich. “I am so grateful for her positivity, advice, and friendship.”
Ardrey not only has a love for teaching and mentoring students, she also has a love for the Oxford community as well.
“Oxford comprises all the best parts of Mississippi – wonderful people, unmistakable Southern charm, and award-winning, delicious cuisine,” said Ardrey. “I am blessed that my husband and I get to live and work in a community that supports teachers and supports the arts.”
Ardrey is able to share her love for music and teaching with her husband who happens to be the choir director at Oxford High School. They have become Oxford’s “Crosstown Choir Directors” as she likes to put it.
She said one day she would love to create a community arts outreach program that focuses on building music literacy skills and allows students from Lafayette, Oxford, and surrounding areas to come together to make beautiful music.