BEHIND THE APPLE: Jeanell Marvin, William Reeves Jr., Elementary School
Jeanell Marvin, 27, of Summerville is a bundle of emotion. And this, in part, is what makes her such a good teacher. She cares.
Originally from the Bronx, in New York, she and her family relocated to Summerville when she was 16. She graduated from Summerville High School and then from Charleston Southern. She got hired at William Reeves Jr., Elementary School and has been there ever since. And she loves it.
“Coming from the inner city [the Bronx] I knew education is the only answer,” she says with wisdom belying her years.
“My mom told us our entire lives that knowledge was power and education was the key. If you can read and have knowledge, you can go anywhere and do anything.”
“I tell my kids that!”
“I think teaching shows that you care,” she adds. “Education can release you from any circumstance…it’s the key to getting out.”
She is referring to the feeling of being trapped in a lifestyle or circumstance that so many face these days.
And she should know. She grew up in the projects. “I am not sure anyone down here will know what a project is,” she noted. A project is a building or group of buildings built for low income housing. Too often they are falling apart, covered in graffiti, with drugs being sold in the hallways and the young people who live there having a life expectancy of – if they are lucky – mid twenties. Those are the projects.
Marvin was lucky. She had a family that knew what was important and made sure the children got it. She went to LaGuardia High School for the Arts in Manhattan, an arts high school for which you have to audition. She went for dance and drama.
“I was very close to my teachers there,” she recalls with a smile. She is the eldest of four children. She says they came to South Carolina to get the children out of the projects and out of the Bronx.
But regardless of where she lived, the importance of learning was drilled into her.
“My mom used to say, ‘you’re bored? Read a book.’ It was her answer to everything.
She is certified in grades 2 to 6 and teaches 4th grade. She feels one of her most important teaching tools is to let her students know that they are loved. Each and every one.
“Always on the first day of school I tell them I love them. I get some weird looks! But every year, I know at least one of them needed to hear it … maybe they have a bad home life or maybe just first-day butterflies, but at least one needed to hear that.”
We establish a family here [in the classroom] and when they feel safe and accepted, they will accept what is coming out of my mouth.”
She remembers a child who began the year defiant, unengaged, who stole things and didn’t know it was wrong. The child resisted whatever she tried, she said, but she never gave up. By the end of the year the child had undergone a huge transformation and everyone who interacted with the child saw it.
“At one point,” says Marvin, with tears running down her cheeks, “she told me she wanted to live with me ‘because you love me.’ I had to go out in the hall and cry,” she remembers. “But I told her I would be her fairy godmother, instead, just like Cinderella had and that was okay.”
And if teaching isn’t enough, Marvin plays kickball with students – Marlin Madness – and helps run the Bravo Club, the school drama club.
She was Rookie Teacher of the Year her very first year of teaching for both the school and the district.
She is currently deciding from which school to get her Master’s Degree and thinks it will most likely be Walden University. She wants to get her Master’s in reading and literacy because a long-term dream of hers is to take the importance of literacy to at risk neighborhoods and help young parents learn how to read to their infants, babies and toddlers. “It’s a dream of mine to help women who don’t have those resources…like the understanding of the benefits of reading and story time.”
She is married to a teacher – Michael, who is certified K-12 in PE – and has two children: Jada, 6, and Mya, 8 months old. Jada is in school at Reeves.
“I felt guilty coming back after I had Mya,” she says, “ but because I teach I feel I am impacting their [Jada and Mya] world, the community they will live in. And Jada has 24 brothers and sisters [her class].
In her spare time, Marvin loves reading magazines, taking photos of her family and her new church – Journey Church.
“I am so involved in the community,” she says. “It is so funny how your life just falls together like a big batch of soup and everything just goes right. I am a big homebody and I love doing things with my family.”
In fact, she says, her family has a big family bucket list that includes things like “dance in the rain.”
She also enjoys doing things with her friends like crafts and holding Pinterest parties (“teachers are obsessed with Pinterest,” she laughs). So one night a month they have a girls night and do crafts, she says. “I look forward to it.”
Oh, and she likes to paint nails…”I think it’s therapeutic like coloring books.”
She and her husband are big movie buffs either at the cinema or home on the couch. They love watching TV together as well and enjoy the same shows.
She says she get wonderful support at school from her administrative team. “They are there for any issues.”
But it is the students who make her day complete.
“If they [her students] can’t remember anything I have taught them, as long as they remember someone cares….”
“I think we are all given a certain number of steps on earth and I think every step matters. You never know when your last step will be.”