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Class Notes May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2
   

Curbing Their Enthusiasm?
not if Jennifer Wong is their teacher
Jennifer Wong, '96

   
     

Gideon Edward Elementary is an inner-city Philadelphia school with 348 students. Every day, 30-year-old Muir graduate, Jennifer Wong commutes the four miles from her home to the predominately African American community, past abandoned houses, graffiti-strewn walls and trash-littered sidewalks, to teach her 30 eager third graders.

“My kids come to school with limited social skills that stem from poverty and life circumstances and there is a lot of fighting,” says Wong, who identifies discipline as her biggest teaching challenge. It is, she says, a school where 90 percent of the students have no fathers at home—they are either incarcerated or dead—and where 85 percent live in poverty. Many are being raised by grandparents or single young mothers, with some born to parents 12 and 13 years old.

“Conversations are often hostile,” Wong says. “I teach them basic social skills and conflict resolution.”

And while she was teaching, somebody else was taking notice. Last fall, the stunned teacher was presented with the “Oscar of Teaching,” a $25,000 unrestricted prize presented
annually by the Milken Family Foundation to the country’s top 100 outstanding K-12 educators. “When they announced my name in the school assembly hall, I was in shock,” Wong says. “All I could see were lights, all I could hear were my kids screaming.”

Wong has taught at Gideon for seven years and is described by colleagues as a master of classroom management. “I’m not an innovator,” Wong says. “I take ideas I’ve seen or read about and tailor them to make them work in my classroom.” Encouraging her students to use higher-order thinking skills she has remedied one to two year deficits in their reading ability and brought them to grade level.

A magna cum laude double-major, Wong was persuaded to become a teacher after taking an inspirational class, “Minorities in the Schooling Process,” from Professor Lea Hubbard, in the Sociology department at UCSD. She went on to earn a master’s degree in education at the University of Pennsylvania.

In April, Wong will attend the Foundation’s National Educator Conference in Washington, D.C., where she will work with leaders from academia, government, business and the community to examine current issues facing education.

— Mary Johnson

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"Conversations are often hostile,” Wong says. “I teach them basic social skills and conflict resolution."