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#STEMStories: Jennifer, Educator, Speaker, and a Child Advocate, USA

#STEMStories: Jennifer, Educator, Speaker, and a Child Advocate, USA

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

My name is Jennifer Fry and I am an educator, speaker, and a child advocate in Kansas City. I teach through the Project Based Learning model of education with an emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). I love to engage my students in different learning activities and research the newest forms of STEAM education. I am also a Project Lead the Way Lead Teacher in my district and the 2nd grade lead teacher in my building.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

Teaching is my 2nd career and I came about it at a very round about way. I always loved education and teaching but I never thought that I would be a teacher one day. I went to college for art history and arts management to ultimately become a curator at a major art museum. I graduated from the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma in 2011 with a full time job offer from the Philbrook Museum of Art, a major art museum in Tulsa. I began working in the education department building programs and teaching classes. I LOVED IT! I ended up going to get my Masters of Arts in Museum Studies so that I could further my museum career. After graduating from the University of San Francisco, I could not find what I wanted in my museum field. So I researched and talked to my mentors who told me if I wanted to lead a museum education department someday, I needed to get some classroom experience which led me to the Kansas City Teacher Residency (KCTR). I knew that I did not want to go back to school to get my Bachelors in Teaching and I did not want to do an accelerated program like Teach For America. KCTR blends both theoretical study with practice by placing a resident inside of a school with a mentor teacher while at the same time sending the resident to Masters classes. I graduated from Park University in May of 2019 with my Masters in Urban Education and I have my Elementary Teaching Certificate in Missouri.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

I get out of bed in the mornings to get to work because I know that 24 2nd graders are counting on me to be there for them. I know that many of my students come from very transient homes and difficult situations and school might be the only stable place they have in their lives. I also know that I provide a fun, safe, and collaborative learning environment for my students where they can explore careers, take chances, fail more than once and still be okay, and learn from their mistakes. That is why I get up in the morning, to be leader for these kids and show them that they can change their lives no matter where they came from.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

My personal cure for stress is to paint and to do yoga. I also have a great support system in Kansas City that include some teacher friends who I meet with monthly to destress. Kansas City also has a lot of cultural institutions like the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and the Kansas City History Museum where I love to spend weekend mornings walking around and taking in the beauty. You have to find what works for you so that you do not get burnt out or too stressed. I also think it is important to talk to someone if you do feel stressed and to not feel embarrassed that you need to ask for help. Whether that is a coworker, a friend, a therapist, or a family member, find someone who you can talk to if you do find yourself getting to that “boiling point.” 

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

My role model is my mother. I was lucky enough to have a stay-at-home mom who raised me and my older sister. She grew up in a small community of Milford, Delaware and both of her parents worked. Her father was a postal worker and her mother was a librarian. She grew up with a love and passion for learning. She taught me that no matter what your race, ethnicity, gender, background, you can be whatever you want to be as long as you have passion, believe in yourself, and work hard. She paid for college and graduate school herself. She had her own long career before she had me and my sister. I am so lucky to have a role model like my mother and I hope to be the same influence on the young girls that I teach.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

I would tell myself to stop doubting your actions, ask for help more often, and believe in yourself. I think too often we think we can do everything on our own. In teaching, I have found that it really does “take a village” to teach a child. I ask for help constantly and have found that I am respected for this.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. My first one is to never give up. We need more girls in STEM to become role models for the future girls growing up to become astronauts, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, etc.
  2. My second tip would be to find your marigolds and stick with them, not the walnut trees. I am referencing a blog post by https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/marigolds/ where the author marries marigolds with supportive people who will guide you through your profession and help you thrive. A marigold can be “companion planted” with other flowers to help other flowers grow in a garden and reject weeds. The author also talks about how walnut trees give off a toxic substance where vegetables are unable to grow and thrive if planted near these trees. Avoiding the toxic people that cause you stress (the walnut trees) and surrounding yourself with marigolds will help you be more successful.
  3. This blog post is intended to educate first year teachers but I think that it can go hand-in-hand with other professions.

8. How do you measure your success?

I measure my success by assessing what my students have learned after a lesson. I usually perform a check for understanding every 5-10 minutes during a lesson because if I am talking or teaching and no one is understanding what I am trying to teach, I need to reassess what I do. I also ask my students weekly what they like and what they do not like about class. I make sure they feel safe and supported inside the school and inside the classroom by asking them different questions about the relationships that we have built within the classroom. That is when I know that I am successful.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

My twitter handle is the quickest way to find out more about what I do and my LinkedIn profile. Twitter and Instagram a STEAM teacher’s dream because there are so many resources out there to help with fine-tuning a lesson or coming up with another way to teach something. I have provided links below.

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

My twitter is @miss_fry3 and my LinkedIn profile is https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennyfry33