Posted by: Date: October 28, 2009 In: ,

PLU alum works to close state’s achievement gap

Growing up, Erin Jones ’01, had no desire to become a teacher. In fact, she planned to become an international lawyer. But after visiting an economically disadvantaged, inner-city school in Philadelphia, Pa., Jones’ life plans changed dramatically.

“I had been given so much (growing up) and these kids had nothing,” Jones said.  “Forty percent had no running water.”

Jones charted a new professional direction, and for her students, it’s lucky she did.

In 2006, for example, Jones received a Most Innovative Foreign Language Teacher Award for starting a French immersion program at Tacoma’s Jason Lee Middle School. She currently works at Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction as the assistant director of student achievement and director of as director of the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning (CISL), a program that provides resources for parents and schools.

“I work with kids of color and kids in poverty,” Jones said. “That’s my passion.”

To help explain French, Jones composed about 25 songs and created a French café, which she used to demonstrate to her urban students the importance of such things as responsibility and personal interactions.

Jones’ students served coffee and treats to both adults and older teenagers. During the process, students learned a range of skills, from how to greet adults with respect, to how to properly clean up after themselves.

“What’s really powerful,” Jones said, “is their families became really involved in it.”

Among the many benefits, this initiative demonstrated that classrooms are not boundaries, and learning is not just about textbooks.

In 2007, Jones received a prestigious Milken National Educator Award Jones because she is a well-rounded teacher who goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Jones and others like her are not only teaching students, but also positively influencing the larger community.

“The Milken National Educator Awards Program  provides public recognition and financial rewards to elementary and secondary schoolteachers, principals and other education professionals who are furthering excellence in education,” according to the Milken Foundation website.

In addition to being recognized as an outstanding teacher, Jones also received an unrestricted $25,000 to spend on other educational endeavors.

CISL helps low income parents and parents of color to navigate the school system, according to Jones.  Additionally, CISL strives to close student achievement gaps in Washington state.

“I help other teachers develop qualities that I developed,” Jones said.

After observing a teacher making a difference in that Philadelphia school – without the benefit of books, computers, or copy machines – Jones realized the power of education.

“I believe education can change lives,” Jones said.

Jones subsequently enrolled at PLU, where she received her teaching credential in 2001.

With the memory of that Philadelphia school still vivid in her mind, Jones made the decision to work only at schools in poor communities.

As a teacher, Jones said her mission is to encourage both children and adults.

“I want to inspire teachers to realize that they can make a difference and can eliminate the achievement gap,” Jones said.

Jones, who is married, has three children of her own, ages 12, 13, and 14.  The 13-year-old is adopted, and came from a disadvantaged background.

Jones credits her 13-year-old daughter with extending her passion for teaching.

“If I help parents and schools do a better job, then I’m helping her, too,” Jones said.

As a result of her successes, Jones is now a sought after speaker on the education circuit. In May 2009, Jones delivered keynote addresses at conferences in Phoenix and Oregon.

“They have given me the opportunity,” Jones said, “to reach a farther audience.”