Bulloch County Schools administrators surprised a Stilson Elementary School teacher in her classroom Monday with some wonderful news: She is Bulloch County's Teacher of the Year.
Jenny Hendrix, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) teacher for Stilson's pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, will now represent the school district in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition in May 2023, and possibly advance to the 2024 National Teacher of the Year competition in January 2024.
Hendrix's husband, Jeremy, and her 10th-grade son, Bryson, were secretly invited to the presentation, and her youngest son, Eli, a third-grader, just happened to be in his mom's class at the time.
"Thank you so much," Hendrix said. "I'm shaking. I appreciate this so much. I am thankful for my school and for all that the school district does."
Superintendent Charles Wilson and other district administrators presented Hendrix with a bouquet of flowers and balloons. Also, Hendrix will receive $2,000 from the Bulloch County Foundation for Public Education and the Parker's Fueling the Community program, which fund the district's teacher of the year program.
Hendrix has been an educator for 16 years, 10 of those with Stilson Elementary and Bulloch County Schools. At Stilson, she previously taught second and fifth grades and became its STEM Lab teacher in 2018. She also previously taught preschool in Bryan County from 2006 to 2012.
As a STEM teacher, Hendrix said she truly believes she's found her niche. She uses real-world experiences to teach her students how to create, think, engineer, problem solve and more.
"I am always looking for new ways to grow our STEM program, give students memorable experiences, and engage our community," Hendrix wrote in her winning application for the local level of the competition, which was open to 15 school-level teacher of the year finalists, one from each of the district's schools. "I realize the difference I can make in the lives of children. I create engaging lessons that meet the needs of all learners. I realize how truly important it is to explore different teaching methods."
In the past five years, Hendrix has written and received multiple grants from the College Football Playoff Foundation, the Wal-Mart Foundation, the Bulloch County Foundation for Public Education, and the American Farm Bureau – White-Reinhardt Fund for Education Scholarship and has partnered with Georgia Southern University, local garden clubs, and her school's fine arts teachers to bring her creative lessons to life.
For instance, in her first year as a STEM teacher, she created a unit that would help not only teach students about technology but also show them how it can be used to benefit others and the community. Her students partnered with Georgia Southern University's College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences to collect and film oral histories about Stilson and the 85-year-old log cabin that sits on the back corner of the elementary school. The film they produced not only preserves history through documentary filmmaking; it's also being used as a catalyst to possibly restore the structure.
"We need more hands-on education, and I am glad that I can give my students these types of opportunities at Stilson," Hendrix said.
The 'Gourd Project'
Next, she partnered with Stilson's art and music teachers, Erin Henry and Rachel Thompson, to add a fine arts focus to STEM. Inspired by Hendrix's trip to a gourd farm in North Carolina, the trio created a multi-year learning experience in which the children complete a different phase from third through fifth grade.
Known as the "Gourd Project," each year, third-grade students prepare the school's two gourd tunnel trellises, planting seeds, monitoring the weather and the gourds' growth cycle, and learning about the hard-skinned fruit's different varieties and their past and present uses. They grow Swan, Loofah, African Canteen, African Bushel, Snake, Apple, Birdhouse, Long-neck Dipper and Martin gourds.
When students advance to fourth grade, they take their harvested gourds and fashion them into works of art — birdhouses and musical instruments — in their art and music classes, and in fifth grade, they host a school farmer's market to sell their creations. The proceeds go back into helping sustain the project.
"Community connections are so amazing!" Hendrix said. "There is only one of me, and it is so hard to do enriching activities with students if you don't have help. Without community volunteers, our projects would have not been possible."
This year, Hendrix and her second-grade students partnered with the Brooklet Garden Club and the Ogeechee River Daylily Club to create the Stilson Elementary School Perfectly Perfect Pollinator Garden. The children and volunteers planted 20 pots of native Georgia pollinator plants surrounding the school's existing Gourd Garden in order to help attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
"My three children have been blessed to have Jenny as their STEM teacher over the years," said Michael Hood, a parent of two current and one former Stilson students. "If you ask my kids what their favorite thing at school is, they say, 'Mrs. Jenny's class!' That means so much to me as a parent."
Hendrix's principal, Elizabeth Stewart, also has high praise for her faculty member.
"It is an honor to work alongside such a well-rounded and gifted teacher leader," Stewart said. "Our staff, students and stakeholders greatly value her expert advice, opinions and leadership."
Aspiring Leaders program
In September, Hendrix was one of 21 teachers selected for the school district's Aspiring Leaders program. Launched in 2016, the program gives teachers an opportunity to advance their leadership potential to possibly be promoted to school or district administration positions in the future. She has also served on her school's leadership team and as a grade-level chairperson at Stilson for five years.
Hendrix is also a mentor to other teachers. In only her second year as a STEM teacher, she began presenting her successful instructional practices to her peers at the Georgia STEM Forum. She now sees herself as an advocate for STEM education and has even created created a social media account dedicated to further sharing ideas with other STEM educators.
"I want all teachers to see how easy it is to build engaging lessons without lots of money and without worksheets," Hendrix said. "I hope to continue to advocate for hands-on learning and STEM education. I am stepping outside of my box and extending my advocacy nationwide. I have applied to present at the National Ag in the Classroom Conference in Orlando this summer."
Hendrix received her bachelor's degree in child and family development from Georgia Southern University and her Master of Art in teaching from Armstrong Atlantic State University.
"I believe I am planting seeds for a future harvest," she said in her application. "I may see that harvest if I have the opportunity to see a former student, or I may never see it, but I know I planted the seeds."
All of Bulloch County Schools' school-level teachers of the year will be honored on Jan. 24, 2023, at a banquet sponsored by the Statesboro Herald.
The school district's teacher of the year program is also sponsored by the Bulloch County Foundation for Public Education and Parker's Fueling the Community program.
2022–23 Teachers of the Year
These are the 2022–23 school-level teachers of the year who were eligible to apply for the school district title: Marci Cochran, Brooklet Elementary; Tonya Deal, Julia P. Bryant Elementary; Valerie McLaughlin, Langston Chapel Elementary; Tonya Gilchrist, Langston Chapel Middle; Summer Bishop, Mattie Lively Elementary; Dr. Jontia Grace, Mill Creek Elementary; Jenna Ellis, Nevils Elementary; Teresa Flemming, Portal Elementary; Clinton Thornburg, Portal Middle High; Chris Clark, Sallie Zetterower Elementary; Karla Anderson, Southeast Bulloch High; Stephanie Burke, Southeast Bulloch Middle; Tiffany Ward, Statesboro High; Jenny Hendrix, Stilson Elementary; and Erin Cabral, William James Middle.