Jen Smith had left campus for an appointment, but returned to her job at KIPP Houston High School fully prepared to present an award to one of her 9th-grade students. But something was off.
She noticed there were a number of administrators in the grade level meeting. Too many administrators. There were students with poster boards – were they playing some sort of game? When her best friend and fellow teacher Heather Johnson grabbed her and placed her in front of the crowd, she was thoroughly confused.
And then there was that noise – that one her students would make every time her boyfriend came to school to visit.
“I hear my girls – they only make this noise when they see my boyfriend, and they made that noise – and I was like, wait, why are they doing that? I turned around and he was standing there and I completely lost it,” Jen says.
Jen turned back around and noticed her students had flipped their poster boards, asking the life-changing question she realized was coming – “Ms. Smith, will you marry me?”
The signs now hang in her classroom, and all of her students have signed them.
“He’s of course one of my biggest passions and loves in my life and so are my students, so it was great to have them be part of it,” Jen says. “My fiancé knows how important my kids are to me and had contacted my best friend to set this whole thing up and she had gotten with my students.”
Jen’s students have played a key role in their relationship from the beginning. Jen and her fiancé, Jon Barnhart, met while she was with her students at The Woods Project last Spring. They hit it off, and on a subsequent trip, her students made sure their presence was known.
“It was funny because my boys are super protective of me so they sat him down in a circle and said – it’s apparent you are dating, and we need to know more about you,” Jen says.
Jon apparently met their standards as her students willingly agreed to help him with the proposal. Jen says the most surprising part of it all might be that her students kept it a secret.
“I just can’t believe at a high school they kept it under wraps,” Jen says.
The couple is planning a casual July wedding in Lake Tahoe with close family and friends.
“We want to keep it super low-key,” Jen says. “We met in the woods when neither of us had showered and want it to keep it true to ourselves.”