For Grand Canyon University alumna Jenny Kaiser, the socioeconomic status of a district or a lack of resources does not hinder her passion to educate. This academic year (2013-14) marks Jenny’s 25th anniversary at Alhambra High School in the Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD). During that time, both Jenny and her students have experienced changes, progress and opportunities.
“The changes here are more about the economic status of the surrounding area,” she said. “We used to have a more stable population with homeowners. People lived here to grow old, but now we have groups that come in and come out. We have a lot of immigrants living in surrounding housing areas which changes things. There are many kids coming in who haven’t been educated or don’t speak the language, and we have to ebb and flow with that.”
But Kaiser isn’t afraid of change or hard work. Although she student-taught in North Scottsdale while earning her bachelor’s degree, she decided that area of town wasn’t where she wanted to invest her time and energy.
Kaiser said she realized the kids in Scottsdale would achieve despite of what she did or did not do in the classroom because they had so many other resources.
“I decided I wanted to go where my teaching ability was really needed and so I came to Phoenix Union. We have the wide range of economic groups, and I love it,” she said.
As the population within PUHSD continues to transform, so do the academic standards and curriculum. Soon, Arizona will see a major variation in standardized testing with the implementation of the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards. Fortunately, Kaiser said resources provided by GCU and her district will help prepare her to teach her students in accordance with the academic fluctuations.
“It’s a huge change. You can’t just grasp the material from a meeting or two,” Kaiser explained.
Through a partnership with GCU K-12 Outreach, six Alhambra math teachers are currently receiving high-intensity training from Dr. Ted Coe, assistant dean of the GCU College of Education (COE). Kaiser said the additional hours spent learning about the (PARCC) testing standard benefits her entire high school team.
“Ted Coe is the PARCC genius. He trains us. We try to write assessments, he looks at them and brutalizes them because he is so precise, and we do better the next time. We come back to our math department of 21, and the six of us teach them what he has taught us. He is preparing our school.”
Kaiser’s commitment to learning the “ins and outs” of the PARCC assessment isn’t the only demonstration of her commitment to education. She assists students in completing college applications and scholarship essays so their goal of attending a university becomes more tangible.
“The students’ stories are touching. I was helping a boy write a scholarship letter the other day,” she explained. “He’s a refugee from Nepal, and I explained that he needs to put his story in [the letter]. When they come here as immigrants, the money isn’t there so they’re helped out a lot. One day when he graduates, he then will become the provider for others. Their stories of where they came from and where they want to go are amazing.”
With assistance from Kaiser and others, Alhambra students may see their dreams become reality.
The longtime educator explained the GCU Learning Lounge has enabled many of her learners. With a sense of community and extra assistance, struggling students are improving their grades, gaining confidence and visiting a college campus for the first time.
While some students lack basic skills, others needs hours of one-one-one assistance.
“Our kids they have gaps in their learning. Most kids move away and come back, so they miss important curriculum. We are constantly filling in gaps for kids,” she said.
As much as it is a tutoring center, the Learning Lounge also has become a home and community. Students take pictures with their tutors because they become friends, and many return to the same GCU tutor time and time again.
“Our thing is we still want to motivate them to get over there,” Kaiser said. “It’s amazing how they talk to each other about it, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, they feed you. You can have food when you go over there.’ They really talk it up. We just have to get the kids dedicated enough to go and take advantage of it. Those who use it see huge improvements in what they’re doing.”
Investing in community and education seems natural for Kaiser, and her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Alhambra Principal Claudio Coria said Kaiser is a born leader.
“She is invested in our community and takes great pride in helping our students reach their full potential by teaching and tutoring them and encouraging them to avail themselves of all opportunities,” Claudio said. “Mrs. Kaiser is also a leader amongst her peers. Her enthusiasm for teaching is contagious and she is an asset to her profession.”
Dr. Kimberly LaPrade, dean of the COE, considers Kaiser a dear friend. The two educators went through the teacher preparation program at GCU and were a part of what was called the “guarantee” during that time. GCU guaranteed their graduates were prepared to teach. If COE alumni experienced any difficulty, GCU would assist. This tradition continues today and is now known as the COE Promise.
“Jenny Kaiser is the consummate teacher. She is a smart, funny, engaging and passionate Christian woman,” Dr. LaPrade said. “After graduation, Jenny and I both worked together at Alhambra. She was in the math department and I was in the English department. Students love Mrs. Kaiser. She is challenging and sets high standards, but she teaches with such skill, passion and humor. Students thrive.”