Spotlight on School Personnel: Jen Carpenter
February 27, 2018
Jen Carpenter is the Enrollment Secretary at Kalamazoo Covenant Academy (KCA), a unique GVSU-chartered school that serves students ages 16-22. She has been with the school since it opened in January of 2017, recruiting students from the community who, due to personal circumstances, want to earn a high school diploma but are unable to join the public school system.
Jen has worked in education for 15 years. Prior to joining Kalamazoo Covenant Academy, she spent nine years with Comstock Park Public Schools as a paraprofessional. Jen started to work more with special education students about five years into her career, and it was during this period that she met Doreen Mangrum, who would become the first principal for Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids when the school opened in 2013. Enthusiastic to continue working with Doreen, Jen joined the staff as a paraprofessional. She transitioned to KCA after four years with Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids.
Jen is tasked with ensuring students who are interested in KCA receive a warm and caring welcome from the moment they are in contact with the school. She believes that students at KCA can only be academically successful if they are given the space and time to learn that the staff is concerned for their well-being.
“Our first priority is to rebuild a relationship with them to make them feel loved and respected,” she said. “Once we feel we get the love and respect built back up between the student and the staff, then we know that the student is going to want to come back to school.”
That compassion is not limited to just when students are at the school. Many students live in dangerous parts of the community and deal with violence. Others have life obligations that force them to miss class. When someone doesn’t show up to KCA, Jen will call numerous contacts and search for the student.
“We will even call grandparents, not necessarily because we need [the student] at the school, but because we are checking on them and want to make sure they are OK."
The message seems to be getting through to the students. The school has been open for one year and already has 145 student enrolled. They also celebrated their first graduation in January of 2018.
According to KCA director Jerri-Lynn Williams-Harper, Jen is the driving force for the school’s early wave of success.
“Jen is the glue that holds this school together,” she said. “She is kind, warm, receptive, and tough all rolled into one. She reminds us all of our mission and purpose and has a smile when times are tough.”
Jen and her colleagues have worked hard to gather support for KCA from the community as well. She mentioned that numerous local businesses and the mayor’s office have built positive relationships with the school. Jen also noted the mutually beneficial partnerships KCA has with community organizations that keep her informed of students who need a high school like KCA.
“They’re so thankful that we’re here because they know that we’re helping students that can’t go back to regular public schools,” she said.
With students coming from all over the city, Jen devotes a lot of her time getting all students' transcripts to accurately reflect what KCA credits they’ve already accumulated and what classes they still need to take.
“It is important for them to visually see all the credits they’ve taken through the years,” Jen said. “Some students have been to four of five different high schools and are thinking ‘Oh, I’ve done four years, I should be close to done,’ when in reality they aren’t.”
By providing clarity, encouragement and hope in their educational journeys, Jen is helping students see that earning a high school diploma is an achievable goal. She notes that reaching that milestone can have a lasting impact for their futures.
“They already have so much pressure on them…a lot more than what you would think,” she said, “We’re trying to stop cycles of negativity.”