Faces Of KISD: Jessica Chandler, Caprock Elementary
Not all super heroes wear capes, but they are all around us, showing up when we least expect it – spreading kindness to others, helping those in need, taking the time to listen to a friend, or serving as an advocate for those who have yet to find their voice.
This is exactly what Caprock Elementary first grade teacher Jessica Chandler did when she made the brave choice to share her story, putting a stop to what she perceived was a negative campus perception and giving less fortunate students a voice – and a chance at success.
Chandler remembers the day she was led to take a stand against some comments about how their campus would not have certain problems if they excluded a particular student population from the campus community. Growing up in a low-income home in a small town in Oklahoma, where her family did not put an emphasis on education, Chandler stood up and became the change.
“I let them know that those children were me – I lived that life, and they absolutely should not leave this campus,” Chandler said. “We may be the only ones who can speak for them and show them the love they need. They deserve to be here just as much as anybody else.”
Chandler is no stranger to not having needs met as a child. She knew what it was like to go to school hungry and care less about reading or learning math, because all she was thinking about was if she should would be able to eat. As a teacher, though, she wants to alleviate that for her students by letting them know that during their time with her, they are valued, they are safe, and that she is here to provide them the necessary tools they can use, both at school and at home, that will keep them centered in a place to best allow them to learn.
Over the years, Chandler worked hard to overcome her hardships. School was not easy for her, and she did not have the support at home. But, she persevered, obtaining her GED, and continuing on to Stephen F. Austin where she earned educational honors. Since then, her calling was clear, and she has had the privilege of serving Title 1 schools in every place she has worked. Chandler truly believes that ALL children should experience love and kindness.
She runs her classroom with that philosophy in mind by making her students feel valued, giving them a voice, and providing ownership of their classroom family from the very minute they walk in the door on the first day of school.
Each of Chandler’s students is a “SuperSafeKeeper,” where they rotate through specific jobs each week. Whether it is the Messenger, the Nurse, or the Gator Greeter, students are fully responsible for their position and take great pride in it. Her students learn the importance of kindness and empathy, choice and leadership, helping peers, celebrating mistakes just as much accomplishments, and respecting others’ time, space, and most importantly, their voice.
Chandler’s classroom is filled with photos of her students’ family and friends, her walls are decorated with artwork that her students have created, and daily objectives are hand-written on the board by students. Everything has a place and students are in charge of keeping those things in place by being responsible for them and finding value in doing so.
“My philosophy is that I’m not the one who is running the show here, but we’re all together running it together. They learn to not just rely on me, but themselves and their peers. My goal is that they leave here more empowered, with more tools in their toolbox that they can use to help them succeed far beyond my classroom.”
Jessica’s former principal, now KISD Human Resources Director, Angie Nayfa says she’s not sure she knows a teacher who loves students any more than Jessica does.
“She is one of the very best teachers I have ever worked with,” Nayfa elaborates. “She knows exactly how to engage her kids in a way in which they truly take ownership of the classroom – it’s truly magical.”
Having this mindset and unique classroom dynamic is no easy task. It takes work, patience, and countless hours of positive reinforcement until these behaviors are mastered. But, Chandler says, it is worth it.
There was a point in her career where she was ready to give up teaching after spending the year working with a student who had a very difficult home life. As the year came to a close and the student was about to move away, Chandler wished she could have taken the child in, so she could continue working with her and given her everything she needed to succeed in life, but she could not. She was only entrusted with that student during the school hours of that one school year, and at that moment Chandler panicked, because she knew she would not be able to keep fostering what she had instilled in this student the entire year.
“With all my students, I have to believe that I’ve been given a seed, and it is my job to my job to water it and take care of it. Sometimes, I am lucky enough to see that increase, and sometimes, I don’t. But I have to believe that the seed I planted is being taken care of because there is a greater power than me that will help them water and nurture their seed – all because I said yes.”
When it comes to academics, Chandler’s students also excel. Why? Because Chandler says it takes all the pieces of the puzzle – social, emotional, and cognitive – to achieve that balance. In her classroom, you’ll find less interruptions, because she believes students are more academically engaged and invested when they feel safe and connected to their classroom community. As a result, they are receptive to the content delivered.
Chandler focuses on the fact that finding a passion for learning is as equally as important as fostering the importance and value in students so they become emotional, healthy, and stable beings who can succeed. To do so, she must define their importance and allow them to discover who they are.
“When we’re all working together, we’re a stronger force. Together, we can catch the passion for the learning and for life and watch it spread like wildfire.”
Jessica’s heart stretches far beyond the classroom. The difference she makes can be spotted throughout the entire campus with staff events such as, “Celebrate Monday,” “Friday Prayer,” and a “Kindness Stationery Station;” as well as campus-wide initiatives including the “Books & Braids” program for young girls, Dr. Seuss Week, and inspirational quotes that can be seen going up the stairs of the campus. These are just of the few things Jessica has spearheaded to create a strong, unique, family atmosphere on campus.
CES Principal Amy Erb describes Jessica as the embodiment of great teaching.
“She sees the potential in her students and colleagues and inspires them to greatness. Her servant heart creates a culture of love and acceptance that makes it possible for all students to learn and grow,” Erb says.
After seven years at Caprock, Chandler is embarking on a new chapter in her life, accepting a position in Meridian ISD teaching 5th grade reading. While it is no secret that Keller ISD has become a second home to her, she says that a part of her heart will “always be with the world changers of KISD.”
“I will watch on with fondness and pride that I had a hand in the shaping of the leaders being raised up by Keller ISD.”
Chandler says her legacy is simple. It derives from her childhood, where she wanted to grow up quickly so she could have a voice. She will never forget that feeling, or overcoming it – and she will run her classroom, wherever that may be, with this one intentional purpose in mind:
“I want to create a place where my students feel heard, empowered, where they are the owners of their successes, and that their voice matters. I don’t want them waiting to hurry up and grow up, but to value the moment they are in – not waiting on tomorrow, but living for today.”