On June 10 countless faculty, friends, students and former students gathered to bid a fond farewell to longtime and beloved Forest Avenue second grade teacher Kevin Jennings. The retirement party took place in the school’s gym complete with a cake, gifts, guestbook and music provided by flutist Melissa Courter and harpist Joanne Eagan, parents of former Forest Avenue students.
Hired in 1979, soon after graduating from college, Jennings accepted a third grade position at Forest Avenue school and remained–happily–in the same building for 34 years. After a brief stint teaching fifth grade (in the same building to the kids that had previously been his third graders), Jennings switched to second grade and pretty much stayed put. “I started out wanting to teach middle school,” says Jennings recalling his storied Forest Avenue career as everyone’s favorite teacher. “But in the end I decided I really like 7 and 8 year-olds!”
Jennings signature curriculum was the second grade solar system project. It began in the Starlab that travels through all Verona elementary schools every winter, and invited students to draw pictured of aliens (Jennings’ favorite), write stories about travel to outer space and build space ships from things they found around their home.
“As far as I concerned Kevin Jennings was the heart and soul of Forest Avenue School,” says former Forest principal Tom Valente, who retired in 2010. “He not only cared for the children that he taught in his classroom, he cared for the school as a whole. He was our technology guru for many years. When the elementary technology position was eliminated and the stipend was removed, Kevin continued to help Forest Avenue School with our technology concerns.”
“He is an unselfish man with a big heart,” Valente adds. “My sons are now 35 and 37 years old. I asked them on separate occasions to name their favorite three teachers from their Verona school days…Kevin Jennings was on both lists. I’m sure his name would appear on all of the lists of former students. I wish Kevin all the best in his retirement and in his future endeavors. He will be missed at Forest Avenue School.”
As for what those future endeavors will be, Jennings says he has absolutely no idea but is looking forward to making good on a promise from many years ago. “I’ve always wanted to vacation at the beach in September and this year that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Though he admits to having mixed feelings about leaving–“I’ve absolutely loved my job. There’s never been a dull moment and I love the people here. Forest Avenue School has been my second home and I will miss it terribly”–there’s one thing he won’t miss: the long commute. Driving such a long way north on the Parkway from his exit–117A–has become tiresome as traffic has noticeably worsened over the last five years.
On behalf of the SCA, Jacqui Schuldiner presented Jennings with a football jersey featuring the school mascot–the Forest Avenue bulldog–and the school colors, green and white. His number? 2J, of course.
If you’re concerned Mr. J will be lonely basking in the September sun at the Jersey Shore while the rest of us are back in school, rest assured that won’t be the case. His wife will likely be at his side. After a long career working at for the postal service, she, too has decided to retire. “We both just decided that now is the time,” Jennings says with a smile.
Good luck Mr. Jennings.