Spotlight: Jennifer Reaves (WV '18)February 19, 2019
Jennifer Reaves (WV ’18), the technology integration specialist at Morgantown’s Mylan Park Elementary, gets inspired by her colleagues: “I am pushed and motivated by what they are doing in their classrooms—and I’m innovating right alongside them.” She won West Virginia’s 2018-19 Milken Award on December 11, 2018.
Milken Family Foundation: You started the Code Like a Girl Club at Mylan Park. Why make a special effort to get girls interested in coding and computer science?
Jennifer Reaves: Women are vastly underrepresented in computer science and technology fields. Most girls who haven’t been exposed to computer science (CS) or coding in younger grades turn down the opportunity to take those classes in middle school, high school and even college. My goal was to get more girls interested in CS and coding at a younger age so that when these courses were offered, girls would be excited to take them and then possibly pursue a career in computer science.
The club meets weekly for an hour after school for 13 weeks. The girls learn the basics of CS and code. We are now in our second year and the club has grown from 10 to 18 girls. I have two girls transitioning to middle school next year who are already talking about starting their own coding club and taking CS classes. I am proud to mentor these amazing young ladies and to work with them through the laughs, tears, challenges and successes.
MFF: Tell us about your schoolwide Hour of Code.
Jennifer: I hosted my first Hour of Code in my second-grade classroom. I knew little about CS and code at the time, but as my students worked through their hour I was amazed at their engagement and how students solved the online puzzles in unique ways. From there, I started teaching coding in my classroom one day a week. My students were hooked, excited and working on their critical thinking and problem-solving skills in new and innovative ways.
A year later I moved into the Technology Integration Specialist (TIS) position for my school. I took what I learned about CS and code the year before and dove even deeper. I approached my principal about hosting a schoolwide Hour of Code event, and she was thrilled! Many if not all of our students and teachers had little to no experience with CS and code. We agreed that this would be a great way to get everyone involved.
I teamed up with CodeWV, our regional partner for Code.org, to plan this kickoff event for our school. I planned an assembly complete with media, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee, some state Senators, the state superintendent and [former West Virginia First Lady] Gayle Manchin. I wanted the whole school to see how important this event would be to our students’ futures.
After the assembly, all students—from kindergarten through fifth grade—returned to their classrooms to code for one hour on a pre-selected activity from the Code.org Hour of Code Website. It was a HUGE success!
I have since become a facilitator with Code.org. I run workshops for teachers over the summer to teach them how to use the Code.org curriculum in their classrooms. Our school now teaches the Code.org Computer Science Fundamentals Curriculum in each classroom in grades K-5. I am proud to say that we are moving beyond one hour. This year we hosted our second annual Schoolwide Hour of Code Day, and I look forward to continuing this tradition for years to come.
MFF: What do you like about teaching elementary students?
Jennifer: I knew from the beginning I wanted to work in elementary education. It’s where we lay a strong foundation and set a student up for future success. I taught second grade in our building for six years before taking my current position. I loved being a homeroom teacher and watching my students grow, building relationships and experiencing their own success throughout the year.
Now, as the TIS, I work with all students in the building, from pre-K to fifth grade. This allows me to build relationships with all of the students, whether it’s in the breakfast line in the morning, in the hallway giving high fives, checking in with a student during lunch, or making sure students get home safely at the end of the day. I truly believe that what students learn, the role models they see, and the experiences they have in elementary school follow them throughout the rest of their lives.
MFF: What made you decide to teach?
Jennifer: When I was younger my brother and I would play school. I taught swim lessons every summer and even ran a few summer camps. I loved working with children and watching them find success. But when it came time for college I chose to study journalism. I loved to write and design. I had a passion for it. I thought journalism was the perfect fit.
After graduation, I struggled to find a job. I landed as a substitute teacher in a middle school. From the moment I stepped in that classroom I knew this was my calling, what I was missing, what I was meant to do all along. I went back to graduate school to get my degrees in elementary education and reading and started my career as an educator.
I still use my journalism and design skills to run a schoolwide digital newspaper for my fourth- and fifth-graders. I meet with them once a week to help them craft their articles around school happenings, take and edit photos, and upload the content. It is fulfilling to me to mentor future writers and graphic designers.
I film and edit our schoolwide news broadcast twice a week for our morning announcements. In “The Mylan Park Minute” students and staff report on happenings in the building and share important information, all while building community throughout the school. I also manage Mylan Park’s website and our social media. This has been an ongoing process with my principal to reshape our image as a dynamic school on the rise. We are working hard every day to achieve this.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Jennifer: My mom was my first teacher. She held high expectations, showed compassion, taught me the power of play, helped me with my homework, and emphasized the importance of a high-quality education. She made me who I am. She laid the foundation for the same principles I teach my own daughter and follow in my classroom today.
I was lucky and had amazing teachers as I grew up. But some of my favorite teachers are right here in the building where I teach. I am constantly inspired, pushed and motivated by what they are doing in their classrooms—and I’m innovating right alongside them to provide them and their students the best possible educational technology resources for their classrooms. I think this is why I love my job so much. I love working with teachers to transform learning and create meaningful experiences for their students. That is where the real magic happens!
MFF: Tell us about your first year of teaching.
Jennifer: It was all about survival. No college class or student teaching placement gives you the experience you need to be ready for day one. But the first year is all about finding out who you are as an educator. What is your teaching style? How will you set up your classroom? How will you work with parents? How will you manage the paper trail, nurse slips, movement breaks, report cards?
The first year for me was trying, exciting, frustrating but also fun. It was like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle without the picture: challenging, fun, and worth it in the end. I have to thank the other teachers on the second-grade team who took me under their wing and showed me the way. I still tell first-year teachers to work smarter, not harder. Trying to conquer everything on your own is difficult. Use your grade-level team; you are all in this together. Split up the tasks, plan together, work together.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Jennifer: My principal called the assembly supposedly to recognize our school for receiving a prestigious grant. I am responsible for Mylan Park’s social media, so my main focus was capturing the moment in photographs. As the assembly went on, I realized that something even bigger was happening. I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is huge! I have to start recording so I can tweet this out!”
When my name was called, I was completely shocked and surprised. Luckily, that moment—when my name was called and all the cameras turned toward me—was captured on video. Watching it today still makes me tear up with pride. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think something like this could happen to me. I remember giving lots of hugs and shedding many tears. It was a moment I will truly never, ever forget.
MFF: How did your students respond to your Milken Award?
Jennifer: The students have been supportive and extremely proud since the notification. I still get lots and lots of hugs in the hallway, along with, “Mrs. Reaves, you’re the number one teacher!” or “Good job, Mrs. Reaves!” The assembly truly resonated with them and still does today. It makes me proud to know that this Award not only meant so much to me, but also to the students and our school.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Jennifer: For my students, success can be something small like unpacking your backpack on your own, or something large, like showing mastery on a math assessment. Success is whatever makes my students feel proud, in whatever form that may take. Sometimes it’s my students who feel the pride within. Other times I jump around, clapping and being silly, to celebrate their achievement. It’s important to celebrate the successes of our students, big or small. These victories challenge and inspire our students to keep moving forward.
For myself, I think I am always chasing success. In my life I have had many wonderful things happen: being a mom, having a great job that I love, a loving family, a great education and caring friends. I think that success is something we are always trying to reach with little benchmarks along the way. Finding success is what keeps me moving forward each day. It’s what makes me a lifelong learner, an innovator, and an educator. Success is still out there.
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