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Center Grove teacher fights cancer, teams up with student to write a book

April Golden Apple Reward winner revealed

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — WISH-TV celebrates extraordinary teachers in central Indiana with the WISH-TV Golden Apple Award. It comes with a trophy, a school supply shopping spree to Teachers’ Treasures, and a surprise visit from the News 8 team.

  • Nominate a deserving teacher for next month’s Golden Apple Award here.

This month’s Golden Apple Award winner is Mrs. Nikki Hendricks. She has been a teacher in Center Grove for 25 years, but this year is unlike any other — she has breast cancer and is still teaching.

In fact, she teamed up with one student to write a book to help kids for years to come.

Starting kindergarten can be tough. However, going to kindergarten at Walnut Grove Elementary School is a little bit easier, thanks to one student and her teacher, Mrs. Hendricks.

Giuliana Paris is 6 years old and is wrapping up her Kindergarten year. With some help, she wrote a book all about starting Kindergarten.

“Well I just got the idea and my mom said that’s a great idea,” Giuliana said. 

Her mom and teacher pitched in to help make the book come to life — an idea to help young kids who are first starting school.

“Kindergarten with Mrs. Hendricks has been pretty good,” 6-year-old Benjamin Parker said. “Giuliana has a book that explains all that.”

Benjamin says the book has been fun for the whole class. But the students agree, it’s their teacher that’s made this year special.

“She’s a really good teacher,” he said.

Giuliana added, “She’s really good and like she’s the best teacher.”

The book also helped students when Mrs. Hendricks had her own journey this school year.

“She was diagnosed last year with breast cancer,” Assistant Principal Amy Clancy said.

It was a devastating diagnosis, that Mrs. Hendricks didn’t let stand in the way.

“I think of strength and just the physical and mental strength that she has held and has always held, I think. This journey and obstacle just kind of helped that grow and shine even more than it had before,” Clancy said.

“She’s an extremely strong person,” Stacie Osborn said. She is this teacher’s instructional assistant. “You know they can seem strong… but – you know-  you do see that vulnerable side too and you know you never want anyone to go through that.”

“I feel like I’ve learned more about her passion and her strength and how dedicated she is to serving kids,” Principal Heather Gant added. “I think her story sends a message that you can do anything even in hard times.”

“She is strong. She is dedicated and she’s passionate,” fellow Kindergarten teacher, Candice Veech said. “She loves teaching. She loves these kids… it was hard for her to be away.”

School leaders and fellow staff say this teacher is private and never wants to highlight her own obstacles.

She’s a mom to three daughters, forever focused on her family and the students in front of her.

(Provided Photo/ Mrs. Nikki Hendricks)

Her regimented style helped the class to excel, even when she was away from school for treatments and the students felt she was always there.

Described as a well-oiled machine, kindergarten in this teacher’s class helps students train for their education journey.

At the same time, teachers here are training milestone moments.

“She created a team for the mini-marathon. And the mini-marathon is on the day of her original diagnosis and so it’s kind of like a full circle celebratory moment for her,” Veech said.

The school staff will walk with this teacher, one year to the day of the cancer diagnosis. A story of resilience worthy of celebration, which is why Giuliana’s mom sent WISH-TV a nomination for the Golden Apple Award.

So, along with Giuliana’s parents, this teacher’s family, and district administration, Hanna Mordoh and the News 8 team went to Mrs. Hendricks.

“Overwhelmed… Happy… Thankful,” Mrs. Hendricks said while holding back tears during the surprise.

“Thank you, I am very surprised. I did not know this was coming,” Mrs. Hendricks said after the video from her students and fellow staff was played in the classroom.

When asked what she thought was really important for people to know about teachers, she said “That we can handle a lot and still put our hearts towards the people that need it, the kids.”

She describes this past year as a new adventure and has some advice for others.

“Just to stay positive and to always think of the things in life that are good. That everything can be better and you can get through things and there are always people out there to support you,” Mrs. Hendricks said.

Support can change your story through challenge and triumph; perhaps the greatest measure of the journey is who you inspire.

(WISH-TV Photo of class)

Mrs. Hendricks has finished chemo and radiation. She has one more surgery this summer, however, she’s not slowing down.

Before the mini-marathon, she’s walking 100 miles this month to raise money for the American Cancer Society. As of Friday morning, she had done 85.

Click here, to help support her effort.

Mrs. Hendricks says this is just the first book in what will be a series. The family and Mrs. Hendricks just released a second book. The books can also be found on a podcast and on YouTube.

To watch other Golden Apple Award recipients, click here.

To nominate a deserving teacher for next month’s Golden Apple Award, submit a detailed nomination here.