Maxwell High teacher Jennifer Mundy talks with students in an early education class on Friday morning as she discusses techniques to use and questions to ask of kindergarteners while reading a book. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
LAWRENCEVILLE — About 15 years after Jennifer Mundy walked out of Maxwell High School of Technology, she returned to start this school year, and now she’s standing at the front of the classroom, not sitting in a desk.
“When I walked in the front doors, it’s almost as if you’re coming back home,” said Mundy, a 1999 graduate of North Gwinnett High. “You know the school. It’s in a comforting environment. Everybody has welcomed me and given me support.”
Since Mundy left, she earned a master’s degree in early childhood education at Emanuel College and then spent the last 11 years teaching kindergarten at Lawrenceville Elementary. She also served on Maxwell’s early childhood education advisory council as a community member to offer input on the program.
Being involved with the school, Mundy learned of the retirement of the previous early childhood education teacher, and the subsequent job opening.
“I knew that if I didn’t take it and somebody else did, who knows when it would come open again,” she said. “And use this opportunity to walk in the door and be the guiding person for future educators, and the impact my teacher had on me.”
With her hands-on experience at Lawrenceville Elementary, Mundy said she could explain how strategies and techniques play out first hand. On Friday morning, she read a book called “We Share Everything” and she offered suggestions of questions to ask of kindergarteners.
Maxwell Principal Jeff Hall said her professional experience and experience as a former Maxwell student is unique.
“When students have questions, (she can say), I’ve done this, I’ve done that, she’s been in their seat,” Hall said. “She can actually say, ‘I know what you’re going through,’ which makes the kids very comfortable.”
Mundy said she hopes to offer something to her 47 students that her own former Maxwell teacher impressed upon her: A love for teaching high schoolers, and the knowledge of teaching children.
“As someone who grew up knowing she wanted to be a teacher, it was great getting that knowledge and support,” Mundy said.
Mundy said she knew in elementary school that she wanted to be a teacher, and has practiced on her little brother. This program, which is designed to teach childhood development and how to work with children on the right grade level, reaffirmed her career thoughts.
In about three weeks, once the orientation process is complete, Mundy’s students will work with pre-K students in labs three days per week. So she’s also transitioning to a new world of teaching them how to work with those children.
Students in the program are at Maxwell for three high school periods each day, and receive three early childhood credits and one science credit for learning food and nutrition.
“It’s different because our curriculum is teaching the high schoolers, whereas I’m used to carrying out what I will be teaching them,” she said. “I’m used to the 5-year-olds.”
However, not all students in the program eventually go into teaching. Some may become a pediatric doctor or nurse, while others may work as a child psychologist.
“So we give them the opportunity that even though you’re not working with children in a school-type setting, there’s so much you can still do with the knowledge you learned,” Mundy said.
Even beyond technology, the kindergarten curriculum has seen plenty of change in the 11 years since Mundy was first introduced to it as a student. The key difference is the curriculum is more reading and writing and less social with play time.
Mundy’s students admitted some of the things they learned in second or third grade are now being taught in kindergarten. One example is D’Nealian, a hand-writing font.
And as she transitions to her new role, Mundy said she’s embracing the change, which came at an ideal time for her career.
“It was like it was supposed to happen,” she said. “It was meant to be at a time where I could transition out of kindergarten — 11 years is a long time — and what better way to make a change than to come back and help lead the future teachers, the future genertion in public education.”