We have the pleasure of honoring our longest-serving staff member, Jennifer Finan, in this Spotlight. Jennifer has been a part of the Hershey family for more than 30 years! She is our Early Elementary guide but has also had the opportunity to teach in the Upper Elementary for six years. Many years ago, along with teaching in the elementary, Jennifer also worked in Morning Care. She ran our summer camp program for a few summers and even worked at the front desk. For the past 10+ years, she has assisted Cheryl McGovern in the ‘Just Run’ program for students wanting to train to run a 5K.
Jennifer grew up in Stow, Ohio, and currently lives in Concord Township. She and her husband, Chris, will be celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2023. Jennifer fondly remembers her Upper Elementary class attending her wedding in 1998. She has a daughter named Erin, who attended Hershey her entire life. Erin is currently finishing up her senior year at Ohio University (Jennifer’s alma mater) and will be graduating with a major in Journalism and a minor in Linguistics in May. Jennifer’s family also has a very loving and large 17-pound cat named Archie. Jennifer loves when she, Chris, and Erin are together. The three of them have been to many places together hiking, camping, and exploring. Those times when just the 3 of them are together are her happiest moments.
A fun fact about Jennifer is that she is an only child, grandchild, niece, and cousin. She is also someone who loves candy corn in the fall and jellybeans in the spring. Her favorite things to do are hiking and camping, reading, exercising, and traveling to new places.
Enjoy our full interview with Jennifer below:
Hi Jennifer, do you have a nickname?
My closest and dearest friends usually call me Jen.
Can you briefly explain your position?
I would say aside from following my AMI albums, supporting children with their follow-up work, and educational/emotional growth, and giving key lessons throughout the curriculum, I love to tell the children stories and help support them with a task they originally thought impossible to complete. Telling stories sparks the children’s interest in a variety of ways and most of these ways even surprise me. I tell personal stories (probably their favorites), stories about historical figures that came before us, stories of the earth and the animals and plants that live here with us, stories of cultures and civilizations, inventions, etc. The list is endless. I also love to see the pride on a child’s face in their accomplishments or successes, especially when it was something that was thought impossible and/or done independently. Letting a child know that they can do BIG work and accomplish BIG tasks on their own, is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.
We agree! What did you do before coming to Hershey?
I attended Ohio University and graduated with a degree in Hearing & Speech Sciences in 1991. I worked for one year at Hudson Montessori School as an elementary assistant and fell in love with the Montessori method of education. The following year I took my AMI Elementary Montessori training at the Washington Montessori Institute and was then hired by Hershey in the spring of 1993.
Can you tell us what brought you to Hershey?
When I was finishing my training, I was looking for a teaching job and was so excited to find out that Hershey was looking for an Early Elementary guide for their new classroom. I knew the school had a good reputation and had heard about it when I worked at Hudson Montessori. I wanted to return to Ohio. It was already April, and they didn’t have enough money left in their ‘new hire’ budget for transportation (such as a flight) but said there was enough for me to rent a car. So, I drove from D.C. to my parents in Stow so that I could interview. I was the last interview they were having for the job. Jeanne Catalano (Early El. guide), who happened to live in Stow, drove me up to Hershey for my interview and always teased that she had hired me on the drive.
We are thrilled that she did! What drew you to Montessori?
I was in the Education College at Ohio University for a year but really did not enjoy it. However, after being a Montessori assistant for a few months, I was fascinated by the Montessori Method and wanted to learn more and begin taking my training. I love the focus on the whole child and I love having the same students for 3 years. You really can take the time to get to know how they learn and form a lasting relationship with each child.
That’s so true. Tell us what you do at Hershey that is unique to you.
Besides currently guiding one of our Early Elementary communities, I organize Professional Observations for Montessori professionals or individuals who are taking their training and looking for opportunities to meet their observation and student teaching requirements (at the Concord Campus). For many years, I was also on call to come to the school when the alarms went off (ask me about the time I walked through two feet of snow to meet the fire department in the middle of a snowstorm at 3:00 am). You can say I have worn many hats over my 30 years at Hershey!
I’m sure that is a story to tell! What would you say is your favorite part of your work at Hershey?
The children. Seeing them grow through the program at Concord and graduate as young adults. The people. The staff, past and present, are an amazing group of individuals that I am grateful to have in my life and to call many of them my friend.
Where is your favorite place to go?
I absolutely love our nation’s National Parks. I grew up camping and visiting our country’s parks, monuments, forests, and historical sites with my parents, and have continued the tradition with my own family. If I wasn’t a teacher my dream job was always to be a National Park ranger. I tell many stories of my adventures to the children and always encourage them to visit these national treasures. My favorite parks are Glacier, Acadia, Bryce, and the Grand Tetons. I have been to 32 and look forward to crossing the final 31 off my list.
Sounds incredible! What is your favorite book?
My absolute favorite activity to do with my students is to read aloud to them. “Read all the stories, do all the voices.” I love to read chapter and picture books alike. My current class and I are in the process of reading all 84 Caldecott Medal winners. Over the years I have read many chapter books to my students but some of the absolute favorites that I reread most often are The Tale of Despereaux, James and the Giant Peach, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and with an upper elementary class Tuck Everlasting.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” —Maria Montessori
“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” ~ Brene Brown
Those are great quotes. Do you have a favorite movie?
There are too many at this point to choose a favorite.
That’s certainly fair. How would your friends and family describe you?
Determined, resilient, and understanding. The keeper of memories of the school, the ‘Hershey Historian.’ A dear friend and colleague shared the following with me, “Passionate and enthusiastic about teaching, loves being in the environment with students/children and is very nurturing, inspiring to those around, strong leader, committed, warm, supportive, highly devoted to the students and community and easily seen with so much experience, approachable and attentive when you need a listening ear, always gives good advice (gives an honest answer/opinion in a kind way), trustworthy, easy to collaborate with and a “sounding board,” read alouds are always fun and uses voices to read, her life’s work is to make learning a joy.”
That’s why we love you. How would you describe yourself?
Oh, my goodness this is a tough one….after reading the above, you can add humbled. I guess I would say easygoing and supportive. I am also an aspiring librarian (the saying is that I have a book on everything), and a National Park Ranger at heart.
Do you have a favorite Hershey memory?
After being a part of this wonderful community for 30 years, this is a very challenging question to answer and could possibly be an article all by itself. 😉
Here are a few that come to mind, although there are so many more that I could share with you.😊
- Camping overnight in the field behind the Concord Campus with my upper elementary students and 3rd-grade students
- Taking my upper elementary students to Washington D.C. for a week and having the tour guide at the Capitol compliment them on their amazing patience and mature behavior while waiting for 2 hours before our tour.
- Also, taking my upper elementary students on a class trip to Mammoth Cave National Park — all 35 of them!
- Putting on full-length plays for the parents with my upper elementary students.
- Being blessed with FIVE amazing assistants during my 30 years!
- Seeing my early elementary students go through the Hershey program and then see them graduate, go onto college and/or careers, get married, and begin families of their own.
- Hearing the laughter of staff members through the hallways at the end of a school day.
- Reading aloud with my children and crying at the end of a novel together because it was so good.
- Being present and taking part in both the initial groundbreaking ceremony for the Adolescent Program at Huntsburg as well as the groundbreaking for the Upper School building.
- Getting soaking-wet hugs from the 6th-year students after their celebratory 6th-year soak (and hugs from students in general)
- Laughing with my students/children over a silly joke or a shared moment during the day.
Those are all beautiful. Can you now share with us who has made the biggest impact on your life?
My daughter. Seeing the world through her eyes as she has grown up has opened my eyes to many adventures and learning opportunities to better myself as a human being, parent, and teacher. I would also say all my students/children past and present. Each and every one of them has taught me valuable lessons that have supported my growth as a Montessori guide.
What is the biggest life lesson you would like to share with others?
Everything comes to you at the right moment. Be patient and present so you don’t miss these moments when they present themselves to you.
That is wonderful advice and worthwhile to remember, Jennifer. We are grateful for you and appreciate being able to recognize you among our Hershey community both near and far. You continue to contribute great and wonderful things to this school and all those around you. You pour so much of yourself into your work with students and it shows. We celebrate you!