A Tribute to Jenni Voorhees
By Lindsay McAuliffe

A Tribute to Jenni Voorhees

We’ve had a soft, ivory, wool lap blanket in our home for forty years. It’s made of large squares of knitted patterns joined together and banded by elegant crochet stitches. Jenni and our art teacher, Lila, created this wedding gift and it’s been close at hand, well used, well loved, and a constant reminder not only of Jenni’s skill as a craftswoman, and of our long affection for each other, but also of her unusual ability to combine her creative and organizational talents into a cohesive whole. She’s been knitting us together at Lower School, and beyond, in innovative ways for forty-four years.

Jenni may be the closest thing to indispensable in our community since Thomas Sidwell. She has taught every LS grade and done every unloved job, from creating class schedules to costume closet cleaning to recruiting assembly performers to calling substitutes at 5:00 a.m. She wore many hats, from teacher to tech coordinator to committee clerk to academic dean (and occasionally to crisis manager). Jenni led after-school robotics with our science teacher, Sam Frances, supported us with one-to-one iPads and workshops and state-of-the-art computer training, created the Idea Lab, fielded panicky phone calls when the internet went down, or we switched from PC to Mac. She helped teachers design, produce, and direct class plays. Jenni and our librarian, Angela Smith, combined disciplines to teach a novel, Operation Redwood, to fourth graders, using print and online resources to research and discuss deforestation in accessible ways. They went on to form a traveling partnership to teach educators about accessing valid and unbiased information in an era of misleading and confusing online sources.

How is it possible to have 880 FB friends—and counting? Perhaps if you are part of a world-traveling Morris Dance team, if you’re the Children’s Director of the Washington Revels, if you bake exquisite gingerbread houses, if you welcome and guide knitters and give away precious beaded hedgehogs, and most especially if you offer breakfast espresso and warm scones from your room. Jenni’s first dog, Brigitte, was too young to leave at home so of course she became an adored, illegal, computer lab mascot, winning more friends and fans, and for months, eliciting our tolerant principal’s blind-eye. Who doesn’t love a scofflaw?

Jenni and I worked together as co-teachers for twelve years in a vertically grouped multi-age classroom labeled 2-3. We were young, learning and growing, and progressive in our educational philosophies. We challenged ourselves to incorporate best practices, which then meant individualized curriculum, small group collaborative learning, walls of books, Writer’s Notebooks, math folders, hands-on materials and games, careful record keeping, and ungraded assessments. We organized curriculum around year-long social studies themes; oceans alternated with mountains, rivers with islands. Guess who brought her guitar and taught us folk songs, stories, and myths associated with each of these human communities? Echo Hill Outdoor School became another treasured classroom. After a few years, we flexed our 1.5 equivalent jobs into true team teaching; one year we each taught three-quarter time; another year we traded off fulltime/halftime teaching by the semester. We had other opportunities, other challenges to pursue.

Those early experiences with flexibility, innovation, organization, and teamwork (and a certain impatience with process) have been hallmarks of Jenni’s career as she’s taken on the widest possible range of teaching, learning, and leadership positions at Sidwell Friends. Indispensable indeed.