9 Atlanta educators surprised with free trips for Teacher Appreciation Week

Mays High School teacher Sonja Lewis reacts after learning she won a free trip including airfare and hotel accommodations to any Delta Vacations destination within the U.S., Mexico, or the Caribbean on Friday, May 7 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Mays High School teacher Sonja Lewis reacts after learning she won a free trip including airfare and hotel accommodations to any Delta Vacations destination within the U.S., Mexico, or the Caribbean on Friday, May 7 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

When the pandemic forced school buildings to close, Sonja Lewis found an opening to connect with her students.

The Mays High School special education teacher visited them at home, stopping by to make sure they had food and laptops.

On Friday, during Teacher Appreciation Week and at the end of an especially challenging year for teachers, Lewis got a giant thank you.

Delta Air Lines surprised her and eight other Atlanta Public Schools educators with free family vacations to anywhere in the United States, Mexico or the Caribbean.

“I can’t even put it into words. Can you imagine that? A teacher without words,” said Lewis, moments after officials told her the news.

Mays High School teacher Sonja Lewis standing next to 
Shawn Cole, vice president of global sales for Delta Air Lines, reacts after learning she won a free trip including airfare and hotel accommodations to any Delta Vacations destination within the United States, Mexico, or the Caribbean on Friday, May 7, 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Mays High School teacher Sonja Lewis standing next to Shawn Cole, vice president of global sales for Delta Air Lines, reacts after learning she won a free trip including airfare and hotel accommodations to any Delta Vacations destination within the United States, Mexico, or the Caribbean on Friday, May 7, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

School leaders made up an excuse to lure Lewis to the school’s auditorium, where balloons, a banner and the big announcement waited.

Her reaction was as outsized as her heart.

“Oh my goodness,” she exclaimed, as she laughed and jumped up and down.

Principal Mulanta Wilkins said the veteran teacher, hired by APS in 1980, radiates that same enthusiasm for her students.

Wilkins said she’s known for praying as she walks around the school and for her huge hugs.

“Because of Covid, there’s this huge disconnect with our families. And instead of allowing that to be an obstacle, she was going out to their homes, anything that the families needed,” Wilkins said. “Her thing is, ‘I’m going to check on my babies to ensure that they’re going to be successful regardless.’”

 Teacher Sonja Lewis receives a hug from Mays High School Quindarian Boykin after learning she won a free trip including airfare and hotel accommodations to any Delta Vacations destination within the U.S., Mexico, or the Caribbean Friday, May 7, 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Teacher Sonja Lewis receives a hug from Mays High School Quindarian Boykin after learning she won a free trip including airfare and hotel accommodations to any Delta Vacations destination within the U.S., Mexico, or the Caribbean Friday, May 7, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Mays student Quindarian Boykin said Lewis pushes him to exceed his goals.

“She has been the biggest advocate of my education,” he said. “She constantly encouraged me to go beyond.”

Superintendent Lisa Herring thanked Lewis and all APS teachers for persevering during a tough year. The district started the school year with virtual learning and began reopening campuses in late January.

“As we near the end of this school year it is incredibly important that we acknowledge our teachers because we all know that they absolutely deserve a break. Like no other year before, they have done Herculean tasks,” Herring said.

Mays High School teacher Sonja Lewis reacts after learning she won a free trip including airfare and hotel accommodations to any Delta Vacations destination within the U.S., Mexico, or the Caribbean Friday, May 7 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Mays High School teacher Sonja Lewis reacts after learning she won a free trip including airfare and hotel accommodations to any Delta Vacations destination within the U.S., Mexico, or the Caribbean Friday, May 7 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Delta worked with APS principals, who each nominated an educator for the thank-you gift. Nine recipients were selected, one from each of the district’s geographical school clusters. Each will get a free trip, including airfare and hotel stays, to take with their immediate families.

Lewis plans to go to Hawaii.

“People always ask me, ‘When are you going to retire?’ Well, I’m on assignment,” she said. “That’s what I want my students to know: Once you find your purpose and your grace and your gifts, you’ll never work another day in your life.”

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