The Human Touch

Student Handshake Routines Lead to Meaningful Connections, Viral Videos, and Shopping Sprees

The feeling of making human connections has enormous power and benefits. It’s something Johnathon Hines, a Pre-K teacher at Barack H. Obama Elementary Magnet School of Technology, has known for some time.

Mr. Hines has taken this fundamental knowledge to another level with his students. For years now, he’s personalized handshake routines with each child as they enter his classroom daily to help them feel comfortable and excited about starting the school day. It’s led to national, state, and local recognitions after his selection as the first African American male named Georgia’s Pre-K Teacher of the Year in 2019.

His influence continues as his class at Obama Elementary Magnet was chosen by Academy Sports + Outdoors and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) to receive a $200 shopping spree for each child to celebrate Black History Month. His 22 students, along with Mr. Hines, other school staff, some of their parents, Interim Superintendent Dr. Vasanne S. Tinsley, and representatives of Academy Sports + Outdoors and the SIAC, went up and down the aisles at the Academy Sports + Outdoors store in Dunwoody grabbing items from the shelves to take home on Thursday, February 23.

Prized items selected included new toys, bicycles, athletic gear, clothes, favorite team apparel, bouncy houses, and more.

“Being in pre-k, this is their first year in school, and I asked myself how we can make this year exciting. Because they have to go to school for the next 12 years, so let’s make this first year a year that they can remember forever and something they want to be a part of,” Mr. Hines said. “The morning greeting was just a cool thing that we started doing, and then they wanted to do it every day, and it just became a routine in our classroom.”

Mr. Hines said he was excited for his students when they won the shopping spree.

“They are receiving the benefits of going viral,” he said. “I think it’s exciting, especially with them coming in to get something new and theirs—something they can own and take back home.”

Academy Sports + Outdoors selected Mr. Hines and his students as the recipients of the shopping spree after seeing a viral video of Mr. Hines greeting each student with a special handshake before they entered the classroom each morning. The video has over eight million views on the social media app Instagram.

Cody Reid, the Senior Regional Marketing Specialist for Academy Sports + Outdoors, said that after seeing the video, he could tell how passionate Mr. Hines is about teaching.

“Mr. Hines is creating memorable impressions on these kids in the classroom, and this is one way that we can help outside the classroom by providing a little fun for the kids,” Reid said.

SIAC commissioner Anthony Holloman said it was a no-brainer to partner with Academy Sports + Outdoors and award Mr. Hines and his students a shopping spree.

“At the SIAC, our mission and value are educating the youth. Events like this are a great starting point, and we wanted to be a part of it,” Holloman said. “We had a terrific time today working with the young people and spending time with them and seeing their enthusiasm, smiling faces, and gratitude.”

Along with the shopping spree, Academy Sports + Outdoors gave Barack H. Obama Elementary a $500 gift card to purchase new physical education equipment and donated an additional $5,000 to DeKalb County School District to further support students. Dr. Tinsley said she is proud of Mr. Hines and thanks Academy Sports + Outdoors and the SIAC for their generous donations.

“We’re happy that they were willing to include the District in this generous donation so that we can help support more students,” said Dr. Tinsley. “The students woke up ready to shop, which is really something great to show them they are appreciated. It will help them lead more active lives and be more successful in their academic achievements.”

Mr. Hines said he hopes his students learn from this experience how great they are as humans and that they are seen and valued.

“They are special. The world will always need great talent, and these students are the next generation of leaders,” Mr. Hines said.

Pictures from the Academy Sports + Outdoors shopping spree at located HERE.

For more on Mr. Hines and his unique teaching style, see HERE.

See Mr. Hines and some individualized student handshakes HERE.