Burgess Takes Auburn Lessons to Class Room, Guatemala Orphanage

October 23, 2015


burgessJenna Burgess is a 2015 graduate of the College of Education’s Early Childhood Education program. She grew up in Madison, Alabama but always knew she would be an Auburn Tiger and a teacher.

“It’s funny, but ever since I was in Kindergarten I knew I wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher!” she exclaimed. “My cousins and aunts are all teachers, as is my grandmother, and I have always loved teaching. I have also always loved Auburn because my father and sister went there before me. So you’d have to say that Auburn and teaching are in my blood.”

Burgess found her time in the Early Childhood program both inspiring and informative.

“I was close to all of my teachers, especially Dr. Kathy King and Dr. Angela Love,” she said. “The faculty cared deeply about us and the kind of teachers they wanted us to become. I’d say the main message was that you must teach your children in the way that they need to be taught, even though each child is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ prescription for being a great teacher. But we received a thorough understanding of the different philosophies and pedagogical methods to make us be ready to lead and excel on our first day in the classroom.”

Immediately after her graduation last May, Burgess took a different kind of trip than did typical college grads. She got on the internet and studied places in Central America until should found an orphanage in Guatemala – Casa Shalom – where she could volunteer her time and talent and bond with the orphans. She took her graduation money and flew down there alone, not knowing a soul.

Burgess/Guatemala“It was great,” she said. “Someday I’d like to go there on a permanent basis as a teacher of young children.”

She is not yet fluent in Spanish, but she is fluent in music.

“I was in Dr. King’s music ed class and learned to play the ukulele,” she said. “I was able to share the gift of music with the kids there and it really bonded us.”

Her love of Central America began in high school when she went on mission trips with the Central Church of Christ. At Auburn she did the same thing with the local Church of the Highlands. But for now she is settled in Huntsville at a low-income, high-risk Kindergarten at Rolling Hills Elementary.

“I’m doing what I always wanted to do as a teacher,” Burgess said. “I want to teach kids who really need me and maybe get the love that they’re not getting anywhere else.”

Although her pre-service teaching in the Notasulga schools prepared her for the kind of poverty she experiences in her current classroom, she still feels that her job is “different and harder” than she was expecting.

“I wake up excited about the opportunity to teach,” she said. “I get here every morning at 6:45 to prepare for class and get my mind right. Every day is absolutely amazing. We are like a little family. The kids are excited when Monday morning rolls around and they are sad to have to leave on Friday afternoon.”

Burgess with ChildrenRolling Hills serves the children three meals a day, and sends food bags home on the weekend.

“We know they don’t get much food at home so we do what we can,” she said. “We are on fall break this week and I am so worried that they may not be getting much to eat. So that is hard.”

Burgess said Early Ed grads must focus on the children.

“Just remember that you are in it to serve the kids and not yourself,” she said. “It’s rewarding, yes, but it’s also hard. Teachers must love their students in spite of what you have to deal with. It might be a cold day and they come to school in flip flops. They might nonchalantly say that their power has been cut off. It’s pretty obvious that they see things at home that we wish they did not have to endure. But I am here to give them the love they need and to give them a chance at a good education. Those are the best gifts I can give.”