Mrs. Jessica Everitt’s curiosity is contagious! Minds are being opened up to the world and careers around them in Hardin Valley Elementary’s STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) classroom. Read more to see why your child is so excited and how you can contribute to the excitement.
Adam: Where were you born?
Jessica: In Long Beach, California.
Adam: How did you end up in Knoxville?
Jessica: My parents were in the military, so we lived everywhere. We ended up settling here because my husband took a job at Denso. We moved here from Auburn, Alabama.
Adam: Was your father Navy?
Jessica: My dad was Air Force and my mom was Navy.
Adam: I’m a Navy guy myself! Did you go to school in Auburn?
Jessica: Auburn University
Adam: What was your elementary school mascot?
Jessica: We were the Tigers at the school I spent the most time at.
Adam: What did you major in while at Auburn University?
Jessica: I started out as an art major and then I changed majors to Early Childhood Education.
Adam: How many years have you taught?
Jessica: This is my 12th year.
Adam: Where else have you taught at?
Jessica: I’ve taught here in Knox County and also in Alabama.
Adam: How many years here at Hardin Valley?
Jessica: I was the Gifted and Talented coach here for three years prior to this year. So, this is my fourth year here.
Adam: What subjects are you teaching this year?
Jessica: STEM. I teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Adam: How many periods is that and how often do you see each group of kids?
Jessica: I see every single grade during the day, but it rotates on an encore schedule. So, I see them once every nine days for 45 minutes. I see every single kid in this school.
Jessica: It’s pretty cool.
Adam: What clubs do you sponsor or sports do you coach?
Jessica: I do Scholars Bowl after school, so that’s kind of cool. We get to do nerd jeopardy. I also do STEM scouts on Mondays and SSEP in the fall.
Adam: What does that stand for?
Jessica: Student Spaceflight Experiment Program.
Adam: Wow. Is that tied to any program larger than the school?
Jessica: It’s with NASA. The students compete for an opportunity to send their experiments to the International Space Station and have it brought back to them to analyze the results. Our kiddos placed top three in the district. We submitted to the Smithsonian for judging, but we were placed runner up. We are still being invited to go to see a Space X launch this summer at Cape Canaveral. Super nerd excitement!
Adam: Tell me more about Annual STEM Night.
Jessica: I invite professionals from a variety of fields. From construction to chemistry to electrical engineering. It’s just a modge-podge of really what STEM is. They come out and they present with interactive exhibits for the kids. We hope they’ll want to learn more about the careers, maybe they’ll want to be forensics artists because they didn’t even know that was a field. When I was in school, it was always, “You can be a firefighter, you can be a teacher or a nurse.” Part of STEM is discovering there are more opportunities. That’s really a big thing we want to push with our kids. You can be whatever you want to be. It’s a grab bag for you right now. That’s why that night happened.
Adam: So, you do that every fall?
Jessica: It’ll happen every fall.
Adam: Tell me about the Makers Night.
Jessica: We’re introducing that this next year. It is a flip of the traditional STEM Night. This is where the kids have a task at different stations and they can select their tasks to work on based on their grade level. They’ll be given materials and the constraints of the experiment, and the professionals will then filter around asking them questions at those stations that go towards their career. The professionals are seeing that the kids are capable of so much at this age, but also the kids will be getting more valuable feedback from a professional than I could ever give them. It’s going to come from a whole different level of expectations and professionalism than I can provide for them. I’m so excited and hopefully I can get it together for them.
Adam: You’ll get it together. That’s so wonderful! I’m confident you will do it. That is exciting to give those kids access and opportunities like that.
Adam: Why did you get into teaching?
Jessica: First of all, I realized that art doesn’t make any money.
Adam: So, you went with teaching?
Jessica: I make a paycheck! I went to teaching because one of the things I did with my art major, was to teach in an elementary school in Auburn. When I did that one class, I realized I could share my joy of something with kids. I’ve always loved just learning anything. I have tons of questions all the time in my head and I’m one of those people that will go and try to find an answer or ask what sounds like a dumb question to somebody because I want to understand it better. I wanted to be that person that a student can come to and realize, oh my gosh, this adult is just as weird and curious as I am. I am excited to be that person for a kid. That’s kind of how I got here.
Adam: How did you get into the gifted program?
Jessica: The program at Auburn was a basis called Constructivism. It’s a way of looking at education that students build on their knowledge. They are building and you’re the facilitator. Which is funny to look back because you can totally see how I got to be where I am now. My background goes towards a GT (Gifted and Talented) student 100% because you want them to engage in their own learning and take ownership of that. I went from teaching Title One in Alabama and then moved up here and taught private school for bit while I was having kids. Then, I went back to doing inner city here. From inner city, I moved into gifted and talented schools.
Adam: Where else did you teach in Knox County?
Jessica: Belle Morris.
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Jessica: Probably as weird and random as it is, I would be a geologist. I love geology. I have a lot of credits towards a geology degree.
Adam: No way! You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to be artsy AND scientific.
Jessica: I think you can though! If you think about it, art is science. It’s the science of emotion and putting those things together and it’s just cool how you can be so many things in one person. For kids to understand that it’s not always strict and you don’t just have to be this one thing. I can be many things, but focus on a job and then have all of these hobbies on the side. So that’s something to represent to our kids too, especially when there’s so much anxiety right now and stress amongst kids.
Adam: Where’s your outlet for geology?
Jessica: My family likes to hike a lot. We’re big outdoorsy people and we like to do geocaching, but we also do a lot of just looking through the mountains, hiking, and looking up rocks. My kids and I are always at Frozen Head during the summer when my husband is at work. Then, I get to bring it into the classroom and talk about how it’s not just a rock. I can tie into math and they can see all the interconnectedness. That’s what geology is. It’s where we live.
Adam: Yeah. I like that trend in education now where we’re starting to bring the disciplines together. Before it was just, this is math, this is language…
Jessica: Exactly. It’s like the whole black hole photo from last week. Katie Bouman is only 29 and she’s a female. She went to MIT but her major has nothing to do with astronomy. It’s a perfect example for our kids to see. Her Bachelors is in electrical engineering, her masters is in computer science and her thesis was for a computer science doctorate, which has nothing to do with the application. But she was great at seeing the connection between her thought process aligning in support of this science and this mathematics. Now kids get to see this professional who’s now going to be forever in history and she did exactly what we talk about everyday. Making those connections is where big things happen. It’s not staying in your niche, it’s getting out there and involving more.
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
Jessica: My favorite teacher would probably be Miss Frizzle from the magic school bus. She’s always just willing to get in there and let the kids explore. Even from when I was a little, I just thought she would be the best teacher ever. And I think a lot of kids have that mindset of wow, she would be AWESOME. But we need the bus. I’m looking for investors.
Adam: That is a significant piece. We need some angel investors for the magic school bus.
Adam: Which educator have you learned the most from?
Jessica: It would probably be the teacher that I worked with during my internship in Alabama. And the reason being that there are certain things that you can always learn as the teacher and you can always train yourself. The one thing you can’t train yourself on is loving the kids in your room as if they were somebody’s whole world. That’s what a kid is. That’s somebody’s world that they’re trusting you with. From the moment that I started working with her, she showed love to every single kid in that room. That’s something that I take to heart every day. If it’s not done with love for these kids, then there’s nothing. They know that. I think that that’s probably been the biggest part and impact on who I am as a teacher.
Adam: Was your internship at a Title One school as well?
Jessica: Yeah, that plays into who you are as a teacher when you’ve seen that from the start and realize there’s so much story behind who they are and what they’re doing. If you don’t appreciate that story, you have no idea what they’re talking about. A bad day is not always just a bad day. Being more perceptive is part of who I am too. You know, you have to notice that Johnny’s not normally that angry. Something’s going on.
Adam: Have you earned any professional awards?
Jessica: This year I got Teacher of the Year, which was a huge honor and I was tenured last year. I have earned Geography Lesson Plan for the state before and then I’ve been Teacher of the Week.
Adam: I should have worn the suit and tie! Congratulations!
Adam: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Jessica: Probably the biggest accomplishment that I’m most proud of is my family. We’ve overcome a lot to be where we are. My kids are awesome. I’m just boasting about them. I love them, but they’re both extremely bright, very self-sufficient kids. They did that despite me being a teacher. As kids with a parent that’s a teacher, they often go without that recognition and there’s so much that they do. Somehow at the end of the day, my kids have not been to the emergency room and they are still getting their work done and they’re still focused and they have good behavior. I think that that’s what I’m most proud of. I’m proud of my first and third grader.
Adam: What do you consider a successful student?
Jessica: So, in STEM, I think a successful student is a student who is able to actually ask a question because that means that they’re thinking enough and they have the determination or the want to actually form that question. That to me is success. If you are willing to ask those questions and them even be off topic, if you’re curious about something, who says it has to be exact. We’re all thinking of different things, that’s how change happens.
Adam: What’s the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher?
Jessica: A really good teacher can have a good amount of patience, but a great teacher has the highest amount of patience. Loving the kids and not letting anything blemish that amount of love for a kid. That kid that just drives you nuts, they are still grounded in that love. I think that is what makes a great teacher.
Adam: What improvement would you most like to see made to public education?
Jessica: I would just like to see openness. Openness in all things. Open mindedness of curriculum and realizing it can’t be black and white. It’s more opening up understanding. There’s never going to be a point at which you say, I’m done learning fractions, now let’s move on. It’s not like that. We have to fold things back into our lives. We want kids to learn that you learn by collaboration. It’s kind of counterintuitive how we have our structure of education. There’s just not an openness. It comes into play when I look to reach out to community partners. Is there an openness of what’s happening in my classroom? Is there an openness of what’s happening in your business? Can you share back and forth and talk about how we play off of each other? That communication can’t happen without an openness. I think that that’s where we’re really lacking right now.
Adam: What is something that you could use in your classroom?
Jessica: We applied for a grant and we did not get the grant. One of the big needs we have is for more technology. It’s kind of a joke around here that we’re a STEM class with little technology. We really need a class set of iPads, which would be six because we use them in groups. That’s my biggest next hurdle. We’re in our first year, so we are just trying to knock out one hurdle at a time. PTA has talked to me about it, but they are on a set budget too. Currently when I use them now, I have to take the cart. Because of my 9 day rotation, I’d have to borrow a cart for almost 2 months when really I only need 6 iPads. It’s a weird situation to be in. That’s pretty much our biggest need right now.
**UPDATE** Thanks to a very generous donation from the Hardin Valley Elementary School PTA, all 6 iPads were delivered to Mrs. Everitt within weeks of this interview! Great things happen in communities that invest their schools.**
Adam: So this is the first year of STEM. Was that something internal? Was that something state mandated? Where did this class come from?
Jessica: Because of our growing numbers, the school was approved for an additional encore position. Before, we only had eight classes and we had nine classes per grade, so one class would have to split. Once we went up in ratio, the county approved for another encore position to fund. Then, it was passed to Dr. Poe and then the leadership committee here in the school. They got to vote to add where they wanted to put the encore. One of the propositions from the county [Knox County Schools] was that other schools are using this as a STEM position. They voted and agreed on it. I’m really glad they did because I think this community, given who our population is and who we serve, it makes the most sense to me to have this here right now. Only thing is, they fund the teacher position and not anything else. Everything we have is donated or begged and borrowed.
Adam: What hobbies do you have?
Jessica: Hiking, kayaking, running, and reading.
Adam: What do you like to read?
Jessica: Science fiction.
Adam: Who’s your favorite author?
Jessica: I actually like Madeleine L’Engle. She writes A Wrinkle in Time series. She has a great way with words and how she interweaves history within science fiction.
Adam: What is a good way for a student or a parent to spoil you?
Jessica: I actually absolutely love their notes and their pictures. I put them up all over my stuff. Any note a parent or kid writes to me I keep. If I’m having an off day, those are the things I go to immediately. They remind me why I’m here. It’s like that for a lot of us teachers here. Even if you feel underappreciated in the moment, you know, long term we got this.
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