To connect and to support By lucy tobier

CHS's four newest teachers share their hopes and dreams for this historic year of virtual learning.

Jessika Whiteside, English department and forum leader

Growing up, Jessika Whiteside had one back-up plan for all awkward scenarios and dull moments –– a book. Now, as an English teacher at CHS, she hopes to spread her love for English and build connections, even when she has never met any of her students.

Whiteside’s love for reading and writing grew from helping her parents. Neither of her parents speak English as their first language, and she often helped them make phone calls and improve their writing in English.

“Sometimes I wonder if maybe that was the first place that I could sort of be independent,” Whiteside said. “I think it was a spot for me to be different than everybody else.”

Left - Whiteside with her eldest son Griffin. Photo courtesy of Even If Photography. Right - Whiteside with her three sons and husband in a "quarantine porch portrait." Photo courtesy of Rachel Leonard Photography. Leonard was a former student of Whiteside.

An only child living in an isolated neighborhood, Whiteside was never not reading. She read, and still reads, “a little bit of everything” and enjoys getting book recommendations to discover books she normally might not have read. As a kid, she loved dystopian books, realistic and science fiction. For students, she recommends works by Margaret Atwood, Jason Reynolds, Louise Edrich and Nic Stone –– who once visited her classroom at Romulus.

“I really, really love reading a book and handing it to a student and realizing that there's something in there that I think will speak to them,” Whiteside said.

Whiteside student taught at Willow Run and Tappan. She then taught both middle and high school at Romulus Community Schools for 15 years. While she loves the openness of middle schoolers, one of her favorite parts of teaching is seeing high schoolers transition and grow.

“I think the relationship part is the most important part to me,” Whiteside said. “I love getting to know people and seeing that change and what it's like for them after high school and did all those dreams come true. And where life takes them and staying in touch.”

Whiteside has seen firsthand the impact teachers can make. She still remembers an eighth-grade teacher who was there in a time of need when Whiteside was having a “total middle school moment.”

“She was so kind, non-judgmental and open - and just listened,” Whiteside said. “She just made it feel like I really mattered.”

Whiteside taking a selfie. This year, she is excited to build connections with her students and become a part of the "Community community."

Even online, Whiteside is trying to build connections with students. While she says that it can be hard to read people, especially with cameras off, she also thinks that different aspects of students’ personalities can come out better virtually.

Whiteside is working to adapt her typical lesson plans. She plans on using different forms of learning and is working on figuring out the logistics and technology needed for virtual classrooms.

Through all of the changes, Whiteside is hoping to still build connections with students.

“I hope that they get to know me and give me a chance to get to know them," Whiteside said. "Know that I really want to get to know people and be part of a Community community."

Joslyn Hunscher-Young, Social Studies and World Languages departments and forum leader

Written with help from Noah Bernstein

As a senior on The Communicator, Joslyn Hunscher-Young was voted most likely to return to Community. At the time, she was not thrilled. Now, as Community’s newest addition to the Social Studies and World Language departments, she is excited to help students make their mark.

Hunscher-Young didn’t get into CHS as a freshman. She went to Pioneer, dual-enrolling in math and science at CHS, and then switched to CHS in her junior year as part of the Class of 2006. She joined The Communicator, loved field day and even took a few CRs at the University of Michigan.

Hunscher-Young at graduation at Rackham (left) and her junior year student ID (right).

She also joined Black Student Union (BSU), who was doing a lot of work fighting for a more diverse Community. Her experiences in BSU changed her and her outlook even after graduating.

“I think that [my time in BSU] was helpful for me just in terms of forming my sort of understanding of the world and what my role should be in it,” Hunscher-Young said. “As well as, how to listen to others and really try to help amplify the voices of other people.”

Hunscher-Young, far right, with BSU in 2006. Her experiences in BSU at Community helped to form her ideas about herself and the world.

After graduating from CHS, she received a BA from Swarthmore College and a Masters from the University of Michigan. She then worked in Philadelphia and had a teaching position in China for a year. Hunscher-Young returned to the Ann Arbor area with her husband –– another 2006 CHS graduate and her high school sweetheart. Formerly ready to flee the “little Ann Arbor bubble” as a teenager, Hunscher-Young’s outlook on living and working in Ann Arbor has changed.

“I became much more focused on the importance of being close to family,” Hunscher-Young said.

Hunscher-Young was teaching at Washtenaw International High school and the school year had already started when she was interviewed for a CHS position. She points to this as evidence of a “vicious cycle” where schools are constantly left scrambling for teachers. But, seeing the opportunity, she took the job.

While this isn’t the start that Hunscher-Young –– or those who voted her most likely to return –– imagined, she is making the most of it.

“I wish that I had been able to have the in-person opening day and all of that, but I guess I sort of get two starts at Community,” Hunscher-Young said. “One virtually, and then another whenever we are back.”

Hunscher-Young, center on bottom row, with her forum in the spring of 2005. This year, she took over the Morgan Forum since Robert Morgan moved.

At CHS, Hunscher-Young hopes to be able to show her students diverse historical perspectives. More than teaching history, she wants to help students build their critical thinking and evaluation skills so they can build their own conclusions.

Hunscher-Young knows the impact that a teacher can have on a student; it is why she wanted to teach. Now, having returned to CHS, she wants to help students make their own impact.

“I think there's a lot that needs to shift and improve in our world right now,” Hunscher-Young said. “I and other adults obviously are not going to be able to do it all. Knowing that there are powerful young people out there that are already working for that change, and that they're going to continue working on it is inspiring to me, and I hope I'm able to support and amplify the work that students at Community are already doing.”

Angela Keene, building substitute

This year, Angela Keene has been working hard to nurture both chickens and high school students. Keene, the building substitute at CHS, has a background in photography and has worked as a professional photographer before starting to work as a substitute teacher in various Michigan school districts.

Keene grew up in Ohio and studied art history at the University of Toledo. After graduating, she moved to Michigan where she got married and had three kids. With three new kids, her education was on hold but not forgotten. After her children were in school, she got her associates degree from Washtenaw Community College and then went to Eastern Michigan University for a degree in art and photography. While doing all of this, she was also working as a professional photographer.

“I had always been the one with the camera every time my friends and I got together,” Keene said. “Back in the day, when it was all film and nobody had cell phones.

Keene started her own business taking photos for seniors and weddings. This experience also taught her a few tips that she passed on to seniors currently taking their photos. She recommends bringing along a friend to make you laugh naturally, trying to forget a camera is there and not forcing a stiff smile.

Keene also worked with SchoolPictures, the company that takes school photos at Community. After 10 years there, she realized that she was bored of the office life and wanted to work directly with students.

Keene still takes photos of events and seniors while not she is not in the classroom, spending time with her kids, raising baby chicks or rollerblading. Her favorite subject is nature and she has been experimenting with cyanotypes (prints taken with the help of sunlight), dried flowers and sunsets.

“Whenever things do get hard, photography has been a really good release to sort of go out and cathartically deal with our emotions through the expression of art,” Keene said.

Some of Keene's nature photography. During hard times, she has always been able to rely on photography for stress relief and comfort.

Keene mainly fills in for art classes at CHS. She personally has been affected by a ceramics teacher in her past who made Keene feel comforted and calm. Another past teacher of hers reminds her of Steve Coron.

“I had a really great English teacher who was literally from the 60s and he would just wear these crazy clothes and these funny ties,” Keene said. “He just had a really fun personality that everybody loved that kind of reminds me of Steve.”

Keene’s current focus is trying to best accommodate each teacher’s different needs in the classroom and their teaching styles and expectations.

“I love the staff that I've been able to work with so far,” Keene said. “Community has been amazing and to be on the other side seeing the inside of what the teachers are dealing with, has been so inspirational. A lot of other places staff doesn't seem so connected or supportive, but I feel like at Community, everyone is just so kind to each other and so helpful.”

Her biggest challenge is the technology side of teaching this year. Even as a photographer, she has always leaned away from technology, instead opting for film and darkroom-style photography. Teaching to just names and black squares has been a struggle for her but she has been using breakout rooms to make students feel more at ease with speaking up.

“We understand that people don't want to turn their cameras on,” Keene said. “I don't want to have my camera on most of the time. But it is nice to see the faces when people are there. It feels more real than when it's just a name.”

Emma Hamstra, English department and forum leader

Emma Hamstra’s first ever day of teaching may have shocked a few of her students. Instead of a traditional literature class, she delved into rap music and its expressive abilities. Hamstra, a rapper herself, is one of CHS’ newest additions to the English Department and most likely the only one with a rap name, (feminemma).

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Hamstra attended Burns Park, Tappan and Pioneer. Community was her first choice, but a high number in the lottery sent her to Pioneer. She loved Pioneer though and was very influenced by her teachers there. With the help of her English teacher Amy Vail, she became more comfortable with the idea of embracing her “nerdy” side while still being an athlete. Hamstra attended Georgetown where she continued to play field hockey and then returned to Ann Arbor for a master’s degree in education from Eastern Michigan University.

Hamstra on graduation day at Eastern Michigan University where she received her masters degree. Photo courtesy of Ruth Hamstra.

While at Pioneer, she also encountered Jeff Kass, a poet and teacher known for his book of poems “Teacher/Pizza Guy”. She joined the VOLUME Youth Poetry Project at the Neutral Zone which inspired her to become a teacher.

“[It] gave me the courage and confidence to believe that what I have to say matters and that people want to hear that,’’ Hamstra said.

Poetry led to Hamstra’s love of rap. Her lyrics focus on anything ranging from feminism to comic books to even yoga.

“When I'm rapping, I'm rapping about my life,” Hamstra said. “I'm not trying to pretend to be somebody else. I'm very honest in who I am.”

Hamstra is also hoping to draft some lyrics for her classes about grammatical topics or texts that the class is focusing on. As a first-year teacher, she is embracing her young age as a large advantage, both for technology and content. She tries to include a lot of pop-culture in her lessons, and finds that poetry is a great way to do that.

Hamstra is also planning on bringing “non-traditional” texts into the curriculum. She plans on exploring "Sula" by Toni Morrison, Claudia Rankine, a poet who focuses on race issues, and she wants students to have more say in what they read.

“I think that having diversity in the text that we read is at the foremost of importance in the classroom,” Hamstra said. “Traditionally, literary texts have been largely male and largely white. As a feminist, I strongly believe in the importance of hearing other people's opinions and other voices”

Hamstra dressed as the late supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg for Halloween. Many of Hamstra's rap lyrics focus on her feminist values. Photo courtesy of Tess Jackson.

For students, Hamstra recommends reading Author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run of "Black Panther," "All American Boy" by Jason Reynolds and "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden. She relates to a quote in Golden’s book about adversity making people stronger

She sees the quote as pertinent right now with the pandemic and struggles for high school students. As a student herself, Hamstra was not without her own struggles. She has ADHD and has spent time working with Eye to Eye, an organization helping teach students with ADHD to advocate for their education.

“It was really important to me to teach the young people that they have a voice and that they need to fight for their education and make sure that they're getting the accommodations they need to be successful.” Hamstra said.

Above all, Hamstra wants to be able to provide the same level of support she received from her teachers.

“The most important thing for me right now is providing a safe and stable adult for the kids that I'm teaching,” Hamstra said. “I want my students to always know I am your hype woman. I'll be there. If you have a baseball game, I'll be there, you got a jazz concert, I'll be there and I'll bring the squad. We will be Mobb Deep there for you.”