ATHENS — The mission of the Athens Area School District, in collaboration with family and community, is to ensure educational excellence by preparing students with the skills necessary to become life-long learners and responsible members of society. Although we live in a small, rural community, we have top-notch educators who are continually striving to serve our students and meet our mission and vision. Our teachers consistently go above and beyond, without expecting recognition or accolades, to ensure that every child is learning and growing. I want to take the time to introduce another teacher-leader to our community, who takes to heart, Building Foundations for Future Success.
This time I have the pleasure of spotlighting Mrs. Heather Kennedy, who became a part of the Wildcat Family 26 years ago when Paul Hewitt asked her, two days before school started, to teach an add-on Kindergarten Class which she happily accepted. The rest is history as Heather has been with us ever since and pours her heart and soul into helping make our students the best they can be. Heather graduated from Mansfield University in 1993 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. She furthered her education by completing a Masters of Early Childhood Education Degree through Wilkes in 1998. The amount of time and effort that she puts into her classroom and students far exceeds the number of hours in a school day. To get to know Mrs. Kennedy a little more, I asked her several interesting questions.
What inspired you to become a teacher and why did you choose to be an elementary teacher?
Growing up, I had three younger sisters that I helped to care for each day and although I complained a lot, I found that I had a “knack” for children. It was in high school, however, that I discovered that I really wanted to become an elementary teacher. SRU High School was then connected to the Harriet Child Elementary School, and it afforded me the opportunity to volunteer my study hall time in classrooms. Mary Owen, who at the time was teaching a transitional Kindergarten and first Grade classroom, welcomed me immediately and literally put me to work. I instantly fell in love with the idea of helping children learn. Sealing the deal was when I student taught with Brenda Yeakel at Main Elementary where I learned so many valuable lessons in teaching from the heart and knew I could make a difference in children’s lives.
How did you come to work in AASD and how long have you been here?
After several years of substituting in the district, I was asked by Paul Hewitt if I would be interested in teaching an “add-on” Kindergarten two days before school started. I’ve been with Athens ever since for the past 26 years.
What are three things that every teacher should own?
1) Good shoes! 2) A good sense of humor 3) A big HEART
What is your favorite lesson or activity?
My absolute favorite lesson/activity to do with my Kindergarten class is hatching chicken eggs. There are so many life lessons that can be learned from taking care of and being responsible for another living creature. Watching the wonder and awe as they see the development of “their babies” come into the world never gets old. And then there’s Christmas time. Who doesn’t want to be in a room full of five year olds when Santa’s on his way?
What is the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?
Rewarding: Being given the opportunity to not only teach a child something they didn’t know before, but to have the honor of loving them like my own for 180 days.
Challenging: Being in an “outlining building” and sometimes unconnected from the “in-lining buildings” has its fair share of challenges. Also, getting parents to see that they are their child’s best asset and most important teacher.
What do you want to instill in your students?
I would hope to instill in my students that they are all individuals with individual talents. That they are strong and capable of anything they put their little minds to and WILL be great one day.
What is your favorite quote or do you have a motto for teaching?
I have two actually. At the bottom of my email information is the quote, “What makes you different is what makes you special.” Also a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my mother…” I would change that slightly to include my father as well.
Why do you believe Athens Area School District is a wonderful place to work and an excellent place for students to learn?
Although education has changed drastically over the past 26 years, I believe that Athens has stayed true to its roots in putting the child first, not the politics. I’ve had the opportunity to work with and for some really amazing people who have become more like family to me over the years. I adore my team members and “sisters in Kindergarten capers,” Brook Baglini and Amanda Liechty who make every day…even the tough ones…great. But honestly, it’s the kids who make this job and school such an remarkable place. They never cease to amaze me with their willingness to learn and their desire to do and be better.
Mr. Henning, SRU Principal shared with me some insight into Mrs. Kennedy’s classroom. He shared:
“Teaching is a difficult job. So many students pass through our doors over the course of our careers, and sometimes we never get to know how much of an impact we had on them. This year, one young girl was so fortunate to be placed in Heather Kennedy’s classroom.
“During the fall, the child was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer. It was clear from the beginning that Mrs. Kennedy cared about her student just as much as she would her own child. Mrs. Kennedy was there in the hospital with the family at the beginning and has stayed with them through the whole process. Just last week, Mrs. Kennedy led the whole primary wing as they welcomed the child back to school for the first time in months. When a classroom is healthy, it feels like a family. That is what Mrs. Kennedy aims for.”
I sincerely thank Mrs. Kennedy for all of the time and effort that she places in ensuring that every student strives to achieve their best. She gives selflessly to the school district and treats every child as her own. We are lucky to have such a truly outstanding teacher like Mrs. Kennedy in our Wildcat Family. I look forward to spotlighting more of our outstanding teachers in the Athens Area School District as we move forward into the 2019-2020 school year.