“I would say that I created the Swamp,” states Jay Jennings ’91, Shipley alumnus and Middle School math teacher and coach, with the knowledge that there may be some who challenge this. “Way back when,” he continues by way of proof, “I knew of the University of Florida, and they had a swamp, so…” Isn’t it obvious? “So I helped to create the Swamp! Here at Shipley! Little known fact.” Case closed.
While he claims the Swamp (Shipley's student cheering section), he concedes the mascot as all good sportsmen do their losses.
“When I was in Middle School,” he recalls, “there was a debate about what Shipley’s mascot should be. My choice was the Green Tide,” he admits.
There’s no question that Jay Jennings has been at Shipley a long time. He first crossed the threshold in Kindergarten and didn’t leave until he graduated as a senior. After taking four years to complete his BA at Davidson College, he came right back to teach and coach at Shipley, redefining what it means to be a lifer.
“I’ve been teaching here for 21 years,” he says with the broad, upright smile and sparkling eyes that characterize him. “People say, ‘you’ve been in the same spot for so many years. Doesn't that drive you crazy?’” Unapologetically, Jennings says no. “I love the School. I love being able to be the type of mentor to others that my teachers were to me when I was a student here.”
And Jennings met his wife here, deepening Jennings’s ties to Shipley. “Many alumni may remember Ms. Collins, who worked as a Shipley Middle School math teacher for 10 years.” Ms. Collins became Mrs. Jennings. “It’s kind of a cool fact that my wife taught here too,” says Jennings.
Paying It Forward
For Jennings, it’s simple. “I remember very clearly my Middle School teachers and the impact they had on me,” he explains. “Mr. McCauley, in particular, knew how to connect with kids. He taught English, and I would talk to him about college basketball.” Through connection, Jennings’s teachers inspired him. “That’s what I try to do now. I try to connect to the kids and through that, inspire them to live up to their potential.” Sometimes connecting with the kids means connecting them to the right person.
“On the first day of school, we were going around with the new students,” Jennings explains, “A new boy was talking about fishing. Jeff Hanna '90, the art teacher, is the fishing guy, so I walked the boy over and introduced him to Mr. Hanna with the hope that later, he would look for Mr. Hanna and know he could talk to him about their common interest and feel at home.”
How It All Began
During the summers of Jenning’s college years, he worked at the Julian Krinsky day camps. “I knew from that experience that working with kids was something I wanted to do,” he explains. After graduating from Davidson College with a degree in History and a minor in math, he returned to Shipley. “I had a quasi-internship as an assistant teacher in the Upper School. I worked with Kay Frnacis Graff '54, who was a legendary teacher—a superstar math teacher. She was great with all different types of learners. In history, I worked with Jim White and George Wrangham. And I coached soccer, squash, basketball, and sometimes tennis.” Eventually, Jennings was offered a job in the Middle School as a math teacher. He’s been teaching and coaching there ever since.
Jennings coaches at least one girls' sport and one boys' sport per year, in addition to coaching township sports for all three of his children. “Coaching is an extension of what I do here,” explains Jennings. “I find that in coaching, you’re really just teaching. The particulars of the sport are important, but really it’s the way you conduct yourself. Building a cohesive team is essential. When I coach the Shipley teams, I get to know the students outside of the classroom.” Often, Jennings will attend his students’ games to show support. “I try to get out there to see the kids play. They love it, and they know I care.”
Teaching to This Generation
Over the years, Jennings has refined his teaching style to appeal to the younger generation. “Ten years ago, I never would have posted a picture of myself online. But now, kids are so busy. They need access to the teacher at all times.” Therefore, he’s created a YouTube channel, so that his students can review his class lectures whenever they need to. “I am trying to help a kid at 10 at night.”
Dedication to Service
One of the essential aspects of Shipley’s Middle School SEED (Social Emotional Ethical Development) Program is the community commitment to service learning. Jennings has been taking groups of students to Philabundance and SHARE, two local food banks, for years. “Fighting hunger in our city is a full-time job, and I love being able to contribute in any way for these organizations.”
What’s In The Future For Jennings?
Many teachers are torn between staying in the classroom and moving into administration. “I’m open to lots of possibilities,” shares Jennings, “but right now, I love the teaching and the coaching, so I don’t see myself changing. For me, I’m a teacher and that’s what I see myself doing for the next 30 years until,” he pauses to chuckle, “until I grow old and my kids take care of me.”