A changemaker in South Philadelphia

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Congratulations to Jeanne Grimes, the Notebook‘s South Region Changemaker for Schools.

The room was full of children’s voices and rustling pages on a recent morning in teacher Jeanne Grimes’ kindergarten classroom at A.S. Jenks Elementary School in South Philadelphia.

Ten adults, including Grimes, a Literacy Intern Teacher, a Supportive Services Assistant, and seven parents, were stationed around the room and reading books with the 19 children who had made it into school on the day of a threatened snowstorm.

It wasn’t a special "parent day" in Grimes’ classroom — when the meteorologists aren’t predicting snow, even more parents join the classroom.

These parents come to Grimes’ classroom nearly every morning to read with the kindergarten students as part of the 100 Book Challenge. The parents’ help allows every child to have the chance to read two books to an adult every day.

Grimes has taught children for 35 years, the past 20 as a kindergarten teacher at Jenks. For her, this sort of parent involvement in the classroom is part of her approach to education.

"Education is a community effort," says Grimes. And at Jenks, she says, "everybody contributes. There are so many talented people, and they come, help, and make this program very rich and very exciting."

Parents, some of whom have not had a child in her class in years, herald her patience and energy with the children in her class. They also express amazement at everything that the children have learned in their first year in school.

During thematic units on other cultures, for example, students have learned how to count to ten and to say phrases in Chinese, Italian, and Spanish — not to mention English. The class has also taken numerous educational trips, including tapping trees for maple syrup, visiting an apple orchard, and exploring Chinatown.

But according to parent Jodi DeLia, equally or more important than the official learning that takes place in Grimes’ classroom are the life lessons that her son has learned this year. "He’s being taught to be a fair and just person in today’s society," remarks DeLia, "and that’s what we have to train our kids to be."

Grimes advises new teachers to bring the community’s strengths into the classroom: "Recognize that every adult in your community has something of value to contribute to the education of your students. Some adults are reluctant to share. If you, as a teacher, can show them their value, adults will not only ‘shine,’ but they will become ardent supporters of your program."

"New teachers should treat every child as if they were their own, as if they were teaching the young Dr. Salk, Dr. King, or Madame Curie," says Grimes. "Acknowledge that the potential of every child in the class is limitless."