Campbell County School District Teacher of the Year Jennifer Farnes sits behind her desk surrounded by mementos from students.
Those in attendance at the Sept. 24 school board meeting knew a big announcement was on the agenda. The board room was packed and full of excitement, most of which was coming from the school community of Rawhide Elementary.
In the midst of all the excitement, Jennifer Farnes quietly sat in her chair. After the announcement was made, the 2019 Campbell County School District Teacher of the Year reluctantly took the over-sized check that comes along with the annual award. She said she was thankful she gets to work with such a great group of people.
Rawhide Principal Bertine Bahige introduced Farnes to the school board, reading from the nomination letter submitted by special education teacher Jeri Gibson, who co-teaches with the fifth and sixth grade Rawhide team.
“She’s not only representing the district, she’s putting our school on the map,” said Bahige of Farnes’ accolade.
Now in her ninth year of teaching and fifth year at Rawhide, Farnes said she can’t imagine teaching anywhere else. She began her career in Las Vegas and said that she brought a lot of helpful teaching tools back with her to her home state.
“This is what I was born to do, I think. I love it. I wake up every day excited to come in,” she said of her career in education.
Farnes explained it was her freshman English teacher in Wright who gave her that first nudge toward education. Like many teens, Farnes said she was dabbling in all the wrong things when Mrs. Kaiser told her that she saw more for her.
“She just invested in me,” Farnes recalled, “and to have someone do that who’s not family is really powerful, and I never wanted to disappoint her. It changed the trajectory of my path.”
She said that her sister is also a teacher and another inspiration.
“I feel like I am always fortunate to come across people who are just exemplary at what they do. So, I have all these role models that I take pieces of them to build who I am.”
A life-long learner, Farnes is working on her second master’s degree in educational ethics, law, and leadership. Her first master’s is in curriculum and instruction.
It’s that love of learning that she wants to pass along to “her kids.”
“I want you to leave my room and leave our team a critical thinker who questions everything, who’s not afraid to try to new things, and always seeking innovation. I think that’s what learning is,” Farnes said.
Not too comfortable in the spotlight alone, Farnes speaks more often from that team perspective. She’s just one of five teachers who mentor, mold, and teach fifth- and sixth-graders at Rawhide.
Gibson has been co-teaching with the group for three years. Last year, Farnes and fellow sixth-grade teacher Devan Jones departmentalized, each tackling different subjects. This is the first year the group has tag-teamed teaching specific subjects to both the fifth- and sixth-grade students.
“It’s just beautiful to see and what they’re able to accomplish,” Bahige said of the team, adding it’s a dynamic that they’ve had to work hard at making work.
“We don’t do feelings much,” said Kara Loden with a laugh.
Their team has a lot of difficult, honest discussions that are all centered on what’s best for each student.
Ross Hauptman, the lone man on the team, said their group text is more like a continuous conversation, supporting and encouraging one another, but also sharing research and resources that may help both colleagues and students down the road.
As for how this award affects the team, the other four beam with pride as they talk about Farnes’ exhaustive work ethic and undying commitment to her students and the school.
The motto in Farnes’ classroom is “let your freak flag fly.”
Sixth grade is a difficult time for kids as they enter a new phase of life that often emphasizes wanting to fit in but still assert their respective individuality. Farnes encourages her students to be a person of character and “just be you.”
Each year, Farnes and Jones buy each sixth-grader a copy of the book “Freak the Mighty,” a story of two unlikely heroes, both outcasts, who come together to become one mighty force. Along with the book’s message, each teacher pens a personalized message to each individual student to take along with them on their new journey into junior high.
Farnes tells her students she expects graduation announcements and wedding invitations in the future. She even gets excited when she receives an email from a high school student asking her to critique their essay. Once her kid, always her kid.