Jackson Street School kindergarten teacher and activist Jen Lucine wants to help her students feel seen and heard—”a real sense of belonging in their community,” she says. Now in her fifteenth year of teaching at JSS, Jen is a passionate advocate for social justice, which for her goes hand in hand with educating some of our district’s youngest.
Integrating social justice into her curriculum intentionally and in everyday ways, Jen emphasizes play at every turn, seeing this as an important tool for promoting principles of equity and inclusion.
“Play is the work of early childhood; it is the language of young children,” she says. “When children are given a chance to play, they are communicating on their terms, they are learning at their level, and they are engaging with the creation of a classroom community. And building a sense of identity and community is central to creating a more socially just environment.”
At the start of each school year, Jen supports her students in exploring their personal identities, then moving into discussions of family and community identity. The role of changemakers, including those from the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, is another point of focus in Jen’s classroom, which is adorned with images and other materials that reflect our multicultural society.
“We learn about people from all over the world, both historical and current, who [made and who] want to make change and why,” she shares. “We treat these individuals as mentors in thinking about how we can make change when we see injustice in the world. And whenever possible we look to local events and local activism as inspiration.”
Jen loves seeing her students respond positively to her teaching and gain awareness of the world around them. In 2020 she read aloud a book, We Are Water Protectors, inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests of Indigenous communities to its proposed construction, then mailed messages of support from her students to a Cheyenne River Sioux water protector who was facing jail time (see photos).
Jen wishes more people could experience what she calls the magic happening across her elementary school, including inspiring conversations about social justice within the classrooms and the brilliance of young people’s thoughts, ideas, and play. It is so infused throughout the community that Jen insists that the Shine On spotlight be shared with all of her colleagues and students across Jackson Street School.
In her words: “I am one among many.”
With its “Shine On” series, REAL spotlights educators, caregivers, staff, and students who are using their energy, creativity, and heart to build community and dismantle systemic racism in Northampton Public Schools and beyond.