She could sing. Really sing. So in 2003, Hannah Beach Dwyer ’98 packed her bags and dreams of stardom and moved to Nashville, Tenn.
She recorded songs, met Michelle Branch and rubbed elbows with Keith Urban and LeAnn Rimes at parties. She had come a long way from her days at Gilmour, where she sang in the school choir.
Dwyer honed her talents at Xavier University, taking vocal lessons and singing in the campus ministry choir. Nashville, meanwhile, enabled her to network on a world-renowned music stage where dreams come true every day.
After five years of pursuing music on the side, Dwyer craved full immersion. She married her husband, Dan, in 2008, then decided to follow her musical pursuits full time.
There was just one problem, as Dwyer soon would realize. Her day job as a Catholic elementary school teacher had a stronger pull.
“I was always sort of torn between how do I be a Catholic schoolteacher and be at the bar singing every night?” recalls Dwyer.
She began to see her impact would be felt more in the classroom than in the studio. Today when she sings, it’s in much more meaningful venues – at Catholic churches around town or at St. Bernard Academy.
Dwyer is in her 11th year at St. Bernard, where she teaches math and is director of student learning. Her road to the classroom seemed predestined, at least to her. After all, her father is Gilmour theology teacher Bob Beach, and her mom, a former teacher, is a principal in the Bedford city schools.
“When I was younger, I enjoyed playing school and tutoring students,” Dwyer says. “My teachers encouraged me to do something other than teaching. They wanted me to stretch. But I found that the classroom was really where I wanted to be.”
Dwyer’s road to the classroom involved a yearlong detour in inner-city New Orleans, where she helped settle refugees with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Working hands-on with refugees from war-ravaged places like Bosnia and Afghanistan will change a person. For Dwyer, it was a year full of grit, rawness and epiphany.
“When you see people getting off an airplane with a backpack or a duffle bag and that’s all they have to start their lives, when you meet people who have been in Bosnian concentration camps, it just reminds me how we are so blessed and so lucky,” she says. “We just have no realization of what it’s like outside unless you really get in with those people who have lived it.”
Forty percent of the families in Dwyer’s New Orleans neighborhood earned less than $10,000 a year. It was a long way from there to St. Bernard, one of Nashville’s most expensive Catholic schools.
Dwyer never forgot the poverty she witnessed in New Orleans, nor the haunting stories of the refugees. Rather, she used her JVC experience to inspire service initiatives at St. Bernard’s.
“As a younger teacher, I wanted to bring more service to the school,” Dwyer says. “We started food drives at every Mass. That’s one of the benefits of being at a school like this – they’re not afraid to try new things.”
Dwyer also suggested having a $5 fish fry to benefit charity. It was supposed to be a one-time thing. Instead, it became a weekly fundraiser that spanned six years.
One year, the event raised enough money to stock a local food pantry’s shelves for an entire summer. “It’s exciting to be part of something like that,” says Dwyer, who today is busier advancing St. Bernard’s rigorous academics as director of student learning.
“I was definitely ready for this,” she says of the position she took on in 2013. “I found myself thinking bigger than my classroom and believed I could have a greater impact within the SBA community.”
Dwyer says she strives to “help faculty stretch a little bit and expose them to what else is out there.” As she navigates relationships with teachers, students and parents, Dwyer is guided by the faith she absorbed from her parents and the leadership skills she untapped at Gilmour. Her role of mom to her 4-year-old son, Sam, helps her, too.
“One thing I wouldn’t have been prepared for before was dealing with the parents, but now that I have Sam, it’s enabled me to work with parents on a different level,” she says.
St. Bernard’s is a tight community. The faculty and staff often socialize after work. When they do, Dwyer relishes Nashville’s big city offerings, small town vibe, and, of course, its music scene.
Last weekend, she and her husband hit a bluegrass show, then a Michael Jackson tribute show. “It’s different every time,” she says. “You just never know who you’re going to come across.”
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That he grows up to be kind and compassionate and that he keeps his adventurous spirit
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