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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.