As a gardener and environmentalist, Jennifer Swartz brings her love of nature into the classroom. She is an “exceptional education” teacher at Curtis Elementary.... Swartz incorporates gardening and yoga into her classes

As a gardener and environmentalist, Jennifer Swartz brings her love of nature into the classroom.

She is an “exceptional education” teacher at Curtis Elementary.

After the school received a grant a year and a half ago, a sensory garden was created. The garden also boasts vegetable and herb and butterfly and bee gardens, Swartz said.

“The students like the gardens in general, and they like planting in the garden,” she said. “They really enjoy when we’re able to go outside and just do even writing or reading or math.”

Swartz is the faculty coordinator for the Curtis Conservationists Club, which was recognized for its recycling efforts when it won Richmond Family Magazine’s “Education Shout-Out” contest in 2011.

Swartz has been teaching for 15 years, and 11 of those have been at Curtis. She collaboratively teaches fifth-graders with Kathleen Boyle and also teaches fourth-grade reading.

“We do a lot of really great activities with the kids,” Swartz said. “We’re able to really meet everybody’s needs in small groups, whether they have an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or not. Everyone’s able to get small group instruction, and we’re able to really meet the kids where they’re at.”

After graduating from college with a degree in communication studies and sociology, Swartz worked with adults with intellectual disabilities. Then she switched to case management, which dealt less with people and more with paperwork.

She wanted to go back to working directly with people, so she went back to school and became a teacher.

She was named the “teacher of the year” at her school last spring.

“I was definitely surprised, it was very humbling,” she said. “I work with a lot of really great teachers, and to know that they voted and chose me was a little overwhelming, but it was a good feeling.”

Although she is research-based when it comes to reading and math, Swartz said she leans on unorthodox teaching styles and is willing to try new things, such as incorporating the garden and flexible seating in her classroom. In addition, she is trained in yoga for classrooms.

Her favorite part of being a teacher is when a student realizes that he or she really understands something.
“It’s that light-bulb moment, that moment where they’re really like, ‘Wait a second, I get it,’” Swartz said. “It’s a pretty cool moment.”