From Post staff reports
Jennifer Petty “Jen” Whitener was named the 2012-2013 Wilson County Teacher of the Year during an annual banquet Friday night Cumberland University’s Baird Chapel.
Whitener is a seventh grade teacher at McClain Christian Academy in Lebanon, a private school that students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade on two campuses. Pre-K through seventh grade meets at 528A Vance Lane (Camp Smiley), and eighth through 12th grade meets on the campus of Cumberland University.
She received an associate’s degree in 1988 from Volunteer State Community College and a bachelor’s degree in 1999 from Cumberland.
Whitener was among the Teacher of the Year nominees in 2005.
Whitener began her career as a teacher in MCA’s pre-kindergarten program where she taught more than 40 students, all of them 4 years old. She taught them the names of the states, the names of Presidents, the correct way to hold a pencil and more. “I taught them to dance, sing, and to have the confidence to show off their abilities to others. The connection I felt with my students during this time is when I first fell in love with teaching,” she wrote in her application.
Whitener also wrote about her work for the next few years in what she called “a multi-grade classroom” and a male student who had a developmental disorder. “I was able to challenge him in ways he had never been challenged before.”
She worked with the student who eventually began reciting Bible verses and answering questions in class and who took part in a school play delivering a single line which garnered more laughter and applause from the audience than any other.
The next year, the student had a larger role in the school play and more lines than anyone else in a particular scene. Whitener noted the student was coaxed into repeating the line from the first school play he was in, and he received a standing ovation from the audience.
“The connection we forged during this time is still intact today. This young man went on to become Homecoming King and will attend college in the fall majoring in astrophysics. I could not be prouder of him,” Whitener wrote.
In addition to teaching, Whitener has also been involved in raising funds for various charities. She chaired for a number of years MCA’s largest fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. MCA raise more money for St. Jude than any other school in the U.S., she noted.
Other charities she has raised funds for include Sherry’s Run, the American Heart Association, Gilda’s House, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Soles for Souls and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
She said she has always stressed to her students the importance of connecting with the community through charities and added that she regularly takes part in food drives, coat and blanket drives and Christmas for Kids.
MCA adopts a family through Christmas for Kids, and Whitener said students use it as a “real world math lesson with a trip to Walmart.”
During the course of her career at MCA, Whitener was also asked in April 2011 to step in and serve as principal for the rest of that school year.
During a time of difficulty at the school, she noted that a number of families had left although others remained. The school year ended with a celebration of the hard work by the remaining students.
She noted the recent economic downturn affected the school and its families. “We appreciate what we have; we live on what we need; yet we still have so much more than we ever thought we could.”
Although the school has a low enrollment this year, but even so has managed to raise more money for its various fundraisers than in any other year, Whitener said.
She also serves on MCA’s Music at the Mill Committee, which raises funds for the school and has brought entertainers such as Josh Turner, Ray Stevens, the Oak Ridge Boys others to Lebanon.
After a trip to five countries in Europe, Whitener shared her travel experiences with her seventh grade students through a virtual field trip in a double-decker bus she made herself. After another trip planned for this summer, she said she plans to share more of her experiences with her students next year.
“As I grow and continue to see life’s connections, I inspire my students to see how we all work together in this journey,” she wrote. “I know we are all life-long learners, and I want to inspire them to see their own lives in the same light. School is only the beginning. As for my school-life as a chairperson, nurse, therapist, administrative assistant, chaperone, researcher, planner, playwright, director, booster club worker bee, mom-away-from-mom…teacher is just the beginning.”
The 2013 Wilson County Teacher of the Year event is sponsored each year by Wilson County Motors and CedarStone Bank.
The names of 28 educators from every school in Wilson County, public and private, are submitted to a panel of judges who selects the final winner.
Those teachers are Holly Yelton of Byars-Dowdy, Kerry Veurink of Carroll-Oakland Elementary School, Kellie Porter of Castle Heights Elementary School, Stephanie Heath of Coles Ferry Elementary School, Carol Smallwood of Elzie D. Patton Elementary School, Greg Armstrong of Friendship Christian School, Donna Robertson of Gladeville Elementary School, Kathryn Horn of Lakeview Elementary School, Amanda Hargis of Lebanon High School, Stephanie Porter of MAP Academy, Jen Whitener of McClain Christian Academy, David Spence of Mt. Juliet Christian Academy, Tammy Shipley of Mt. Juliet Elementary, Jonathan Stricklin of Mt. Juliet High School, Carey Miller of Mt. Juliet Middle School, Lindsay Tate of Rutland Elementary School, Rachel Desimone of Sam Houston Elementary School, Geoff Luckett of Southside Elementary School, Rebecca Gullekson of Stone Creek Elementary School, Shirley Grant of Tuckers Crossroads Elementary School, Jennifer Yokom-Brown of W.A. Wright Elementary School, Amanda Polk of Walter J. Baird Middle School, Stefanie Smith of Watertown Elementary School; Veronica Minsky of Watertown High School, Carice Ambruster of West Elementary School, Scott Hoffman of West Wilson Middle School, Brad Dedman of Wilson Central High School and Nancy Smith of Winfree-Bryant Middle School.
Whitener received a $1,500 cash prize and MCA received another $500 for their efforts.