By Dr. Holly Robinson
In the same week recently, the city of Marietta’s Sawyer Road Elementary School had its charter approved to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) conversion charter school and second-grade teacher Emily Jennette was selected as the 2008 Georgia Teacher of the Year.
The IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) is built in units that focus on inquiry framed units across disciplinary themes of global significance. The program is especially appropriate for this new Georgia Teacher of the Year who, as the educational ambassador for Georgia’s public schools, represents Georgia public school teachers across the state.
Growing up in Germany in a military family, Jenette attended Department of Defense schools from elementary to high school. She graduated from Germany’s Heidelberg High School, attended the University of Alabama for undergraduate studies and is certified in early childhood, elementary and special education. Her certification allows her to teach K-8 with an emphasis in Language Arts and Social Studies, as well as Special Education K-12. She earned her master’s in Elementary Education at Kennesaw State University.
Seventy-one percent of Sawyer Road Elementary School’s diverse student population receives free and reduced lunches. In Jenette’s class of 20 students, the varied cultures and languages of Nepal, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan, China, South America and Canada are represented. Jenette traveled widely while living abroad, including trips with a church group to Burkina Faso in Africa to build classrooms for a local school and to Romania to build a playground for disabled orphan boys.
She spoke mostly German when she moved back to the United States to attend the University of Alabama, so Jenette has a remarkable understanding of the struggles of her students learning English and adjusting to a new culture.
“My students know, from the minute they walk through my door, I cherish the time we have together and expect them to give only their best,” she wrote in her Teacher of the Year application. “Therefore, I consider each day a unique and special experience.”
Helping these students work together despite their diverse backgrounds, “Miss J,” as she is known, spends a good part of the first month of school teaching the class to “become a family.” Students learn their responsibilities, classroom procedures and organizational skills. This organization and discipline enables Jenette to spend time individually with students while others work in groups or on their own projects.
The international baccalaureate charter integrates the arts through the whole curriculum and Jenette already models this in her classroom. Arts and music are very important to her, and she integrates the subjects into science, math and reading, starting each day with “Brain Juice,” a dynamic song, to invigorate students. Students love to sing along and follow the instructions: “I feel it in my fingers; I feel it in my toes, I feel it in my shoulders, my brain juice all around …”
As she reads “Eloise in Paris” from her rocking chair, enthusiastic students gathered around on the rug are introduced to a new and sophisticated vocabulary and to French culture.
“The more words you know, the more powerful you will be” is her philosophy, and she passes out word cards for them to hold up as she reads the words and defines them in the context of the story. This oral reading class is followed by research in the computer lab on Paris and France.
The students count writing time as another favorite time of the day. One little boy said, “She gives us a piece of her heart.” Since the children work at different levels, Emily meets with a number of them each day, to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of all the students.
During math, the class learns algorithms and algebraic concepts through word problems. “Glue your eyeballs on me,” Jenette urges as she teaches.
Under the leadership of Principal Jill Sims, the faculty worked hard together to complete the school’s charter. Success came as they learned from each other, figured out each other’s expertise and grew.
“The teachers compete to do the best for the child,” says Sims, who provides dynamic, out-of-the-box leadership that is reflected in her staff and the selection of Georgia’s Teacher of the Year at her school.
Jenette “completely loves being a teacher, and humbly strives to do better,” the principal says, describing her as “light and sparkle in each meeting and in the classroom.”
One needs only to spend time with Miss J and her students to see how perfect this description is, and how deserving of the honor is this 2008 Teacher of the Year.
Dr. Holly Robinson is senior vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (June 15, 2007). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.