In my “Who’s Who in Pacifica Education” series, I had the opportunity to interview Alyssa Jenkins, teacher at l. Jenkins is a charismatic, outspoken individual who is dedicated to her students and passionate about education.
Suzanne Scafuri (SS): Tell me about your current position at Terra Nova.
Alyssa Jenkins (AJ): I teach college-prep freshman English, sophomore honors English, AP English Literature (seniors), and two levels of journalism. I am the advisor of the school newspaper (Terra Nova Times), and I'm the class advisor for the Class of 2011. I actually started my teaching career at Terra Nova in 1992, and after a stint at Serramonte High School and Thornton High School, I returned to TN in 1997, where I've been ever since. Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you that I bleed Black and Gold.
SS: What do you really enjoy about being a teacher at Terra Nova?
AJ: Because I live and work here, teaching at Terra Nova is more than a job -- it's a community function. I work at the school, but I am also a presence in the community because I shop here, grab coffee with friends here, and raise my children here. The kids know that I'm more than just someone they see for an hour a day. Beyond that, of course, I love working with the kids and parents, and Terra Nova has a great bunch of super-committed staff members who consistently go the extra mile to help the kids.
SS: What changes have you seen at Terra Nova since you've been there?
AJ: There's been a huge amount of staff turnover. Because Jefferson Union High School District pays substantially less than surrounding districts, our younger teachers often can't afford to stay with the district, no matter how much they love it. As the older group of teachers retired, the people who have replaced them haven't been able to stay with the district because the salary just isn't enough.
Also, over the past two decades, the academic bar at TN has really been raised. When I started, there were very low-level math and science classes available, which meant that students could graduate with low skill levels. Now, however, those low-level classes are gone, and every student will graduate prepared for whatever career or college option he/she wishes to pursue. I feel strongly that not every student must immediately go to college, but every student must be prepared to take on whatever challenges come next, whether that means a technical college, a military career, or a four-year university.
A recent change for the worse is that freshman English and math classes have gone from 20 to 30+ students [in each class] in the past two years. While I am still confident that students are getting a good education, it has been extremely difficult for both kids and teachers. I am hoping that if Measure C (JUHSD's parcel tax) passes, our freshman English/math class sizes will go back down to 20-24 per class.
SS: How else are you involved in Pacifica education?
AJ: I am a believer that a small group of people working together can achieve great things. When my husband and I moved to Pacifica, we weren't sure about the public schools here. We didn't yet have children, but we weren't sure that our future children would be attending the local elementary schools because we didn't see the vibrancy and energy that we wanted for our future children. However, by the time our eldest was in preschool, the had reinvigorated and rejuvenated itself, and we enthusiastically enrolled our son (and later, his brother) at . As I became more involved with the local schools, I saw organizations that I wanted to become a part of. People like Dr. Alberta Freitas, Karen Dwyer and Paul Meadow, Kalimah Salahuddin, Eileen Manning-Villar, Joan Weideman, Laurie Frater, Karen Ervin, and Sue Beckmeyer inspired me to become more involved. Now, I am working on a committee for JUHSD's parcel tax measure, Measure C, without which the district's students will suffer, and participating in the reauthorization effort of PSD's parcel tax. I am a huge fan of the Pacifica Education Foundation and Saving Pacifica Schools because the all-volunteer efforts of both groups show just how much support regular people can provide when they get together to make it happen.
SS: Any fun facts you want to share?
AJ: I truly have the travel bug. I love going new places and seeing new things. I lived in Israel for a short time after I graduated from college, just before the Gulf War (came home just after they started handing out gas masks), and I've traveled to four of the seven continents, although not nearly as extensively as I'd like. Every year, I take a group of students to a different European destination: we leave for Munich on March 30. I love seeing Europe through the eyes of a teenager.