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Scholarship honors former Smoky Hill Teacher

Students from Smoky Hill High School didn’t lack descriptions for Mitch Hanson.

For four years, Hanson taught social studies at the school. He also served as a teacher in the Smoky Hill AVID program, coached the drum line for the marching band, sponsored the mock trial team and even carried the title of shill for the school’s homecoming dunk tank. When Hanson passed away in January, proof of his impact at the school came through in multiple tributes from his students.

“Mr. Hanson impacted so many lives”; “I have not had a happy life, but Mr. Hanson made me feel important”; “You weren’t just a teacher, you were a friend”; “Mr. Hanson taught me to believe in myself when I couldn’t”; “Mr. Hanson was my home.” All of these quotes came directly from Hanson’s students, and they helped put his contributions in perspective for those who loved him.

“We wanted to give back after he passed away,” said Penny Hanson, Mitch Hanson’s mother. “He impacted a lot of kids through Smoky Hill. We found that out after he died; we had more than 700 people at his funeral and we had the kids speak. The things that they said were very impactful.”

The outpouring of support from Hanson’s students was a bright spot amid tragedy, a sorely needed reminder of the accomplishments of a life ended too soon. The feedback was also a spur for Mitch Hanson’s family to continue his legacy.

They worked with the Smoky Hill community and the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation to create the Mitch Hanson Scholarship, an initiative that provided four Smoky Hill students with $2,000 to go toward their college education. Nebiyu Tadesse (University of Colorado Boulder), Jade Henderson (Metropolitan State University of Denver), Janay Henderson (Metropolitan State University of Denver) and Zavier Hadley (Colorado State University) will all benefit from the scholarship when they start their college careers in the fall.

For Penny Hanson, creating the scholarship was a way to temper the tragic loss of her son. Mitch Hanson made a career out of helping students, and he had a strong connection to those who had faced adversity. In choosing candidates for the scholarship, his family wanted to remember that work. In addition to earning a GPA of 3.0 or higher, candidates displayed a dedication to education in the face of adversity.

“All of the kids who received scholarships have had difficulties in their lives,” she said. “All of them have risen to the top. These kids aren’t the valedictorians, they’re not the IB kids necessarily. This amount of money is going to make a difference for these kids so they can go to college. That’s what they want to do.”

Penny Hanson said that mission will continue. “I would like to raise at least as much money as we had this year,” Penny Hanson said. “We’re going to see how we can continue to boost this scholarship. It’s grown so quickly.”

The rapid success of the scholarship speaks to Hanson’s commitment and connection as a teacher. One of the quotes that stood out for Penny Hanson was the most direct kind of tribute to her son’s contributions to the Smoky Hill community: “Mr. Hanson was my home.”

With this scholarship, the Hanson family wants to make sure that dedication to education and inspiration continues.  Contributions to the Mitch Hanson Scholarship can be made through the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation,

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