On June 18, northern Kentucky 6th grade teacher Hannah Edelen was crowned Miss Kentucky. She will represent the state in the 2022 Miss America pageant, but she will also represent passionate teachers and students across the country.
Edelen is passionate about making kids feel seen. She says as someone who struggled with finding the confidence to take risks and achieve, her empathy and a genuine belief that all children hold the potential to succeed fuels her campaign for Miss America and her social impact initiative, Read Ready Kentucky.
“We have to connect with our kids and let them know that there are challenges along the way, but that they too are capable of something so special, and can paint their life and write their story how they see fit,” she said.
Growing up in Springfield, Edelen’s childhood presented many challenges. When Edelen was in elementary school, her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This, coupled with her father’s disability, led to financial insecurity that had lasting effects on her confidence.
It wasn’t until high school that Edelen’s view of herself started to change, thanks to Sarah Raikes, her family and consumer science teacher. Raikes encouraged Edelen to pursue leadership in a number of activities, including Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). Having a trusted adult believe in her capabilities showed Edelen that, despite her obstacles, she could still achieve.
“I was so insecure about my childhood and what my experiences were at home, and for someone, a teacher, to acknowledge your worth and your value, and put you in a position of leadership that maybe you don’t see yourself in as a child, it’s so transformative,” Edelen said.
Raikes said she knew from the time they met that Edelen was special.
“She had such a caring heart and was determined to make a difference. All I did was provide her the opportunity to help others and make a difference, and she excelled,” said Raikes. “During the four years as her teacher and FCCLA adviser, I consistently observed her become a leader in and out of the classroom. I was so blessed to have the opportunity to work with her and watch her achieve her dreams while helping others and improving our school and community.”
Equipped with a new sense of self, Edelen applied and was accepted into Kentucky’s Governor’s Scholars Program. Its accompanying scholarship gave her the chance to be the first in her family to go to college.
Edelen enrolled in the honors program at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), where she earned two degrees in history and communication studies. She continued to pursue leadership positions as a resident assistant and in her junior year was elected student body president. She used this platform to advocate for equity within higher education.
During her junior year of college, Edelen worked on education policy in Washington, D.C. alongside Kentucky Congressman Brett Guthrie. While there, she met a member of Teach for America, a program that advocates for accessible education for all children by training and placing teachers in high-need areas. This exposure shaped Edelen’s aspirations and gave her perspective on where her passion truly lies: helping kids in the classroom.
During her senior year at NKU, Edelen worked as an instructional assistant at Holmes Middle School (Covington Independent). Upon graduation, she received an emergency certification through Teach for America, allowing her to work at Holmes Middle School as a teacher.
“(Teach for America) allowed me to take a non-traditional pathway into teaching and connect with my kids, and it was a different path, but it was my path,” said Edelen.
While working at Holmes, Edelen decided to pursue a master’s degree in education policy and evaluation at the University of Kentucky (UK). Edelen is currently pursuing her doctorate at UK.
Edelen said she appreciates the platform Miss Kentucky provides.
“It costs money to go to school, and as someone who was the first in her family to go to school, I am very aware of financials and what accessibility looks like, and so for me pursuing Miss Kentucky was really about having a platform to talk about issues that are important to me, but also about affordability for college,” she said.
Part of the Miss America pageant includes presenting a social impact project. Inspired by her own story where school became a safe place to grow her confidence, Edelen’s Read Ready Kentucky project serves to empower students by ensuring that all kids have equal access to reading. It is an extension of an existing program called Read Ready Covington. With emphatic support from the city and Covington Mayor Joseph U. Meyer, Edelen is thrilled to bring the initiative state-wide.
“Now, I’m even more excited because I get to turn Read Ready Kentucky into Read Ready America,” Edelen said.
Edelen will take the year off from teaching to focus on Miss America and will also act as the official spokesperson for Kentucky Proud. Alongside her many achievements, Edelen is also a children’s book author and will be finishing up her second book, a collaboration with Kentucky Proud, called “Hank the Horse and Kentucky Proud.” Her first book, “Hank the Horse and the Case of the Missing Eggs,” promotes information literacy.