Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Jessica Barnette (NC '22)

January 13, 2023

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The relationships Jessica Barnette (NC ’22) builds with Rocky Point Elementary School’s youngest learners endure long after they move up: “I will always be there to support and encourage them, even after they have left my classroom.” Jessica joined the Milken Educator Network on December 13, 2022.


Milken Family Foundation: What do you like about working with elementary students?

Jessica Barnette (NC ’22): Not many things are promised in this life, but one thing that is guaranteed for an elementary educator is that there will never be a dull moment! One of my favorite parts about working with elementary students is witnessing firsthand the growth of a child from kindergarten through fifth grade.

MFF: How do you keep your students engaged in their learning?

Jessica: After a lot research, last year I decided that I would break away from some of the methods I have used in the past and implement new strategies I was reading about. I introduced a sound wall in my classroom, as well as the idea of using “heart words” when teaching High Frequency Words. By the end of the year, my students were using the mirror on the sound wall to identify the correct letter that they were hearing and forming with their mouth.

My year-end student data for 2021-22 showed that these new strategies were successful. As I complete the first year of LETRS training, I am encouraged and excited to continue to find new, innovative ways to help students learn better.

MFF: How do you use student data to differentiate your instruction?

Jessica: I am constantly collecting data on my students, both formally and informally. Using consistent progress monitoring in both reading and math, I frequently change students within small groups to ensure that I am meeting the needs of all learners. Each week I have students complete various independent activities that include skills I know they need to practice. The data I collect means those independent activities are different for different students.

Another way that I use data to drive my instruction is through interventions and enrichment. Students receiving supplemental or intensive interventions are more closely monitored so I can be sure that the intervention is helping them close gaps in the skills we are focusing on. I also use my data to identify students who need enrichment and meet with them multiple times a week to provide them with activities that will promote higher-order thinking skills.

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MFF: How did you end up in education?

Jessica: From a young age, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I was always eager to assist my teachers and I enjoyed helping in the children’s department at my church. When I was in college, I officially decided to pursue a degree in education after thinking about the impact that all of my wonderful educators in elementary, middle and high school had on my life and their contributions to shaping the person that I am today.

MFF: How did your first year of teaching go?

Jessica: It was filled with both challenges and success. I was hired at Rocky Point Elementary School as a fifth grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher. All my college experiences had been in lower grades, so I knew I had a lot to learn about teaching upper elementary students. Luckily, I had a wonderful team that was extremely supportive.

NC Jessica Barnette Spotlight quote

MFF: What do you enjoy about mentoring new and pre-service teachers?

Jessica: This is such a rewarding part of my job. Just like the excitement I feel for my students when they finally reach a goal they have been working toward, I have these same feelings when the same thing happens with a pre-service or new teacher. I enjoy helping them find ways to help their students succeed, and I learn from them as well, whether it’s an idea they are excited to implement in their own classroom or a new way to teach a standard.

MFF: Who are your role models as an educator?

Jessica: I have two, both of whom I am honored to call colleagues and friends. The first is Tara Wood, who really taught me how to be a teacher. She was my intern partnership teacher and later my Beginning Teacher Mentor. Tara truly helped me develop and refine my teaching skills as I watched her interact with students, families and colleagues each day. My second role model is my principal, April Perkins. I have always felt seen, heard and supported by Mrs. Perkins. Her heart and desire for all students and teachers to be successful socially, emotionally and academically is one of the many reasons that I look up to her.

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MFF: What went through your mind at your Milken Educator Award notification?

Jessica: I was completely surprised and felt overwhelmed and humbled to be chosen to join such an elite group of educators. The one thing I remember going through my head during the ceremony was the long list of teachers in my building that should be receiving this Award.

MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?

Jessica: My current and past students were so excited for me. To my surprise, some of them were very emotional as they came up to hug me after the ceremony. I am not sure if it will have a lasting impact on them, but I hope that it helps them remember how much I loved my time with them and that I will always be cheering for, supporting, and advocating for them to the best of my ability.

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MFF: Any plans for the $25,000?

Jessica: Not yet, although we will put some aside for our two-year-old daughter’s college fund.

MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?

Jessica: I believe that success looks different for every child because every child is different. Success in my classroom, for students and adults, is defined by always trying your best.

MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?

Jessica: The most important thing is that they were loved. I strive to build strong relationships with all students and families early in the year. I hope they know that I will always be there to support and encourage them, even after they have left my classroom.

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