Jenn Dewhirst watched the stage with anticipation. It was September 2014 and she had been looking forward to the Kinder Award for Excellence in Teaching Dinner, knowing that one of her former students was set to win the prestigious award and $10,000.
As she watched some of her former students take the stage, though, she realized that in fact, alongside her former student, she herself was one of the evening’s honorees.
“I’m not in a traditional teaching role, so I never even expected to be considered for that,” Jenn says. “It was completely overwhelming.”
After 15 years with KIPP, though, Jenn’s impact is undeniable. She began her KIPP career at KIPP Academy Middle School as an eighth-grade English teacher. Very quickly, there was a need for Jenn to take on high school placements for her eighth graders.
Since her start with KIPP, Jenn has watched the evolution of the KIPP Through College (KTC) team, which is dedicated to ensuring students are matched with the best high schools and colleges for them. She is now a Feeder Pattern Manager for KTC and works tirelessly to ensure her seventh- and eighth-grade students are placed at high schools that fit them, and subsequently successfully matriculate to college.
After such a long career with KIPP, Jenn now has the privilege of watching her former students return to KIPP as colleagues.
“That’s my favorite thing,” she says. “I’ve known them since they were fifth grade or younger. Now they’re these amazing adults and called to give back to the community that gave to them. Those who come back and give back – that is it. That’s what makes me keep doing it.”
While Jenn has worked hard to ensure her students are successful after KIPP, she knows it’s the smaller, everyday moments that matter the most.
“When we used to go on these trips at the end of the year in California, we’d have this candlelight ceremony at the beach,” she says. “Everyone in the circle would share something – something they were grateful for or appreciated. Those kinds of moments, wherever they happen, help remind us as teachers they get other life lessons from us as well. They internalize the gratitude piece, or helping others piece, or doing the right thing when no one is looking. They are saying those things because they genuinely believe those.”
Jenn admits the job of a teacher can be incredibly challenging, as each day she knows she must be at her best for her students. But she also knows that for her students, seeing her make mistakes is just as important as learning good study habits.
“If we do mess up, it’s important to explain and say ‘I’m really sorry I was short –tempered with you. I’m stressed and took it out on you. I’m sorry.’ Those conversations have gone miles beyond anything I could say in class as far as having an impact,” she says. “They are forgiving and generous with us. We are very family-like, that’s part of KIPP. Kids look at KIPP as an extension of their family in many ways.”