Get to know Grand Rapids (and the world)

Bobbi Jo Kenyon, Michigan teacher of the year

When she was little, 5 or so, Bobbi Jo Kenyon would catch bugs with her dad.

They would put them in jars and let them fall asleep, with the aid of nail polish remover. The “sleeping” bugs would then be pinned to display their natural beauty.

“I didn’t do typical girl things,” she said, being the eldest child of a science teacher. “I really got a love of science from my dad.”

With collections of bugs, leaves, rocks and more, she found that science was fun. By the time she was five, she new a majority if the bones in the body. Her dad would then use that fact as a mode of motivation for his students who would complain knowing the bones was too hard.

She understood science from the days she barely walk.

“I was one of the lucky few who had a career path from the start,” she said. “My whole life has been find that path.”

Once in college, professors and advisers tried to push Kenyon toward different advanced sciences and medical fields. She refused and continued to her love of science and the desire to spread that love.

She’s been teaching for 17 years now, and although her styles didn’t change for the first few years. But eventually, she realized that with technology changing so much and kids losing their attention spans, her style needed to change.

‘I’m trying to stay with the times, how to keep students engaged,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to stay growing.”

Following her Teacher of the Year designation, colleagues have thought she’s at the pinnacle, the best of the best. She insists that’s not true; that her lesson plans are always changing to be better.

The GRPS Dilemma 

Years ago, Kenyon took a phone call that has forever stayed with her.

“It must be you. If you were a good teacher, you’d be teaching at Forest Hills or East Grand Rapids,” a parent was told her.

The idea that just because she — and many other talented teachers — works at an inner-city school district she’s not a good teacher hurt.

It’s part of the problem with the American education system. Teachers might be some of the problem, but they aren’t the only problem. In inner city systems especially, you have to look at the home life. For many families in urban environments, school isn’t a priority and for a successful academic life, the family needs to be on board.

She said the American system is slowly catching up to the rest of the world, but that we’re still in the industrial way of thinking and memorization. But the standards are moving toward the application and critical thinking that will help raise the system.

Kenyon is helping move education to include technology. If it’s used properly, she said, technology can help education advance greatly. But it does have a few downsides.

“The social aspects are a little scary,” she said. “But, now you can communicate with industry professional and people across the country easily.

“And the information is just amazing.”

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