Walk past George F. Baker High School room 114 during a free period, lunch or even after school and you are likely to find students milling about, opting to spend their downtime back in Jennifer Jones’ first floor classroom. That is simply fine by Jones, a George F. Baker High School teacher entering her third decade with the district. “I've learned a lot over the years about how to bring kids into the fold. No matter what I'm doing, I will drop everything for them.”
Jones has plenty of opportunities. Her current class load consists of global one, global two, psychology, AP psychology, sociology, film and history, economics, and government. And while it is certainly a busy schedule; it does not stop her from “bringing the energy.”
“So, I start every day like this,” she says raising her arms in the air, before letting out a long, bellowing “good afternoon!” “I set the tone right away, it says this is a place where you're welcome.”
By Jones estimates, she has welcomed 2000 - 2500 students “into the fold” since the start of her career. These “global citizens” as she calls them, are at the center of her world, influencing every decision she makes. “Whomever is in front of me, whomever has been in front of me, and whomever will be in front of me until I retire; I try to think what will make them better students and better people.”
To achieve her goal, Jones places a great deal of emphasis on service, namely in her role as National and Junior National Honor Society advisor. Several times a year, the clubs join forces with the Interact Club to coordinate district wide food drives benefiting the Sloatsburg Food pantry. “It is to impart the need to think globally, act locally, and be civic minded,” she says sitting at a desk feet away from a ledge overflowing with boxes, bags and cans of donated food.
In January, Jones coordinated a “movie night,” where members of the NHS and JNHS paired up with students from George Grant Mason Elementary to serve as mentors. To her it was more than a one-time event. “I want them to make connections. Maybe a babysitting night where they are volunteering and working with younger kids will be something they take with them throughout their lives. Maybe they become a big brother, big sister or welcome a lonely community member into their home on Thanksgiving.”
In and out of the classroom, Jones is thinking about the long game. “I ask them, ‘in sixty, seventy years, what do you want to look back on in your life and be proud of?’”
From her view at the front of the room, Jones is unabashedly proud of every student she teaches. While reflecting on this year’s graduating class, an extremely tight knit group of students she calls “the movers and the shakers,” Jones admitted it will be hard to see them go but looks “forward to where they are going” and “how happy they will be.”
"They're fantastic. They are not just your high academic achieving children, but every child in that grade has a sense of self. They have a sense of community. They have a sense that this is a special place, and it’s been special for them, and they want to give back"
The Tuxedo Union Free School District is also a special place for Jones. Smaller class sizes allow her to watch students “blossom” and build their skills from when they first enter her room as first-year students and leave as seniors. She says it is not just a matter of simply assigning and collecting work. "I'm able to sit with every kid and know how to guide that child for what their skill level is to still get them to be successful. I'm all about scaffolding lessons and the way I teach so that everybody is successful. I don't believe anybody should fall through the cracks.”
When asked about Jones, George F. Baker High School Principal Roy Reese called her "one of the finest educational professionals" with who he has ever worked. "By far."
How does Jones define herself? A believer in positivity and being “real,” she says she is not quite Rydell High’s “Patty Simcox” but more like an “enlightened despot.”
“I can be tough when I need to be, but I've also found in my career you don't need to embarrass any child or be overly strict.”
Jones says she prefers to talk out conflicts with students and end with a handshake agreeing “we’re good.” “I am extremely respectful of students. I acknowledge the fact that they are young people.”
The respect and admiration Jones has for the student body was evident during her interview the Wednesday before mid-winter recesses. Every question asked was quickly redirected back to her students: their character, their achievements, and their potential.
At the end of a lengthy answer retracing the success of a former student, she cut herself off and simply stated, “I love every child you know. Yeah, yeah, it sounds corny and hokey but whatever, I really do.”