Farmington High School art teacher Kimmi Dukes holds a sign naming her as the 2022-2023 Judy-White Ora Teaching with Heart and Soul Award winner.

Farmington High School art teacher Kimmi Dukes holds a sign naming her as the 2022-2023 Judy-White Ora Teaching with Heart and Soul Award winner.

Photo provided by Farmington Public Schools

Teacher illustrates how art can shine light on education

By: Charity Meier | Farmington Press | Published July 10, 2023


FARMINGTON — An art teacher who has devoted her entire career to the Farmington Public School District was recently surprised to be named the Judy-White Ora teacher of the year.

Kimmi Dukes, who has taught art for 23 years in the district — 19 at the former Farmington Hills Harrison High School and four at Farmington High School — was surprised with the Judy-White Ora award for teaching with “Heart and Soul” May 23 while teaching a class.

Members of the Farmington High School staff, along with her friends and family, filled the room to see her get the  award.

She said she was shocked to see her daughter there, as she was supposed to have been in school. Her husband, Steve, who had been out of town, was also a surprise, as were her parents.

“It was a huge surprise, but now all my students know that they’ve met my whole family,” said Dukes. “I never expected to look up at work and see my mom and dad there. “

Dukes was later formally presented with the award  during a Board of Education meeting June 6, alongside teachers who were retiring.

“It’s just nice to see people being recognized for doing such a meaningful job,” said Dukes of teacher recognition at the meeting.

The Judy White-Ora Award is presented annually to an educator who exemplifies what the late assistant superintendent, Judy White-Ora, stood for — belief in other people and relationships. During her career at the district, White-Ora, who passed away in 2006, created a pledge for teachers which says, “Today I will: respect the uniqueness of each child, ignite the joy of learning, listen to their voices, put human connections first, encourage the spirit and let their light shine, create a caring learning community.”

The  award is given to teachers who lead their lives by the words of that pledge.

“I really do truly love art, and I’m inspired by people. It sounds cliché, but the human experience, nature inspires me. I’m really inspired by my students, which is probably one of the reasons that I love my job so much,” said Dukes. “Teaching is such a strange thing, because I feel like, especially teaching art, I can work with these kids that come in as these young (men and women) like my freshman babies, and then I can have them every semester and watch them grow and mature. … It’s really inspiring to see them come in and be a little excited, nervous, maybe even a little insecure about if they’re not good or they don’t really know yet who they are and then to kind of watch them grow into who they’re going to be and gain confidence, and take risks and try new things. They kind of learn they can be inspired by each other, because there’s so much talent (amongst the students). … There’s always very creative kids. It just never is dull. It’s never the same. So it keeps me very young at heart and energized and excited. … It can be very challenging, but definitely something that I  think is worthwhile.”

Dukes was nominated for the award by her students and two of her colleagues, Jeremy Robinson and Kevin Meisner. Together the men gathered statements from numerous students as to why Dukes should win the award and submitted them with their nomination packet.

“We took the words of her students and used them to nominate her for the award,” said Meisner. “What she won the award for is not something concrete, like test scores or competition scores, but rather an intangible. That is impossible to quantify, but we thought that by using the students’ own words was the best we could do to show how special she is.”

He said that as the International Baccalaureate coordinator he often speaks with Dukes’ students, and they love her. He said he chose to use their words as he knew they would have great insight about what makes her so special.

“I’ve known Kimmi since I started in 2002, and she’s always been an inspiration to myself as well as other teachers in the building as far as how she approaches teaching — always student first. She is able to find and get the best out of each kid that comes through her classroom,” said Robinson, a social studies teacher, of his reason for nominating Dukes.

He said that Dukes is able to offer students a vast array of mediums to express themselves.

He said she is always there to help kids get better in art, but also to inspire students to do their best work. He said she also is an asset to teachers like himself in other departments. He said that Dukes gave him guidance for teaching  an  AP  European history class as it had a huge art component.

“Kimmi is an incredible teacher. … Kimmi creates a space where students can be themselves, explore who they are and learn how to express that in art. She epitomizes teaching with heart and soul, and I can’t think of a more deserving person,” said Meisner, who’s own child was a student of Dukes.

In his nomination letter. Robinson also told of how Dukes had been able to work with one of his economics students who did not seem to like school, but had a passion for digital printing. He said the student was not enrolled in an art class, but after he showed the student’s artwork to Dukes, she worked with him before and after school to get him into an art contest put on by the Center for Creative Studies. As soon as the student began working with Dukes, Robinson said, he saw the student start to take a more active role in his schooling.

“It means a lot to me that they (my students) nominated (me), and it’s not an award about art skills so much as that they feel like I care about them,” said Dukes.

She said it means even more to her that fellow teachers thought to nominate her and put together statements from her students.

“I think they’re both very caring, passionate teachers, so that makes it really nice that they took the time to nominate me,” said Dukes. “I’m just really overwhelmed and touched that my students and coworkers did that. It just means a lot coming from people that I work with every day.”

Dukes graduated from Livonia Churchill High School and double majored in English and art at Albion College.

She got a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University in studio art with a concentration in drawing. She never taught in any other district as she even did her student teaching at Harrison as well.

She teaches drawing, painting, ceramics, and IB and AP courses. She said she loves the diversity of the FPS community and the opportunities the district provides students.

“Mrs. Dukes has always embraced the things that make each student unique, such as race or gender or other identities that are very important to them. She is very encouraging of her students and pushes them to do art of things that inspire them personally and also pushes them to try new things,” said student Ash C. “She helps anybody who needs it, pushes her students in the right direction and informs them of opportunities they may not know they have. … She has made a very positive impact on my life and she deserves the award.”

Dukes has received other awards throughout her career, including the Educator Award from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the FPS High School Teacher of the Year Award in 2012, and the HHS Impact Teacher of the Year awards in 2008 and 2014.

She resides in Plymouth with her husband and daughter.

Dukes said she would advise teachers to get to know their students’ interests and be able to joke with them. “Don’t just talk to them about subject matter. I know that sounds a little bit preachy, but they have some great stories. They’re pretty fun and funny,” she said.

Dukes said when she thinks of teaching she often reflects on a quote from Maya Angelo that really resonates with her: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”