#MNPSVoices: Jennifer Bell, Director of Extended Learning Programs

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MNPSVoices_062718_JenniferBell.jpg

Metro Nashville Public Schools employees work tirelessly every day to make sure students are succeeding in the classroom – but what happens when the school day is over? That’s where Jennifer Bell steps in.

Bell, director of extended learning programs, leads the charge for all programming that falls outside of the school day – from before and aftercare to summer camps. She believes these programs are just as crucial to a student’s growth and development as their classroom experience.

“Through extended learning programs, we can take a creative yet strategic approach to focus on the whole child,” Bell said. “Extended learning programs give students an opportunity to be in a safe environment during the time of day in which neighborhood crime rates are up. We can reinforce academic standards through hands-on, experiential learning, develop students’ interests and career pathways, and provide healthy resources to support the student.”

Bell joined the district in 2003 as a teacher at Glencliff High School. In her first year of teaching, she would make weekly visits to see her brother who was incarcerated at the time. During one of those visits, Bell experienced a moment she said changed her career.

“My brother is brilliant and amazing but he never connected to school, built relationships with teachers, nor discovered a path that influenced him as much as the peer pressure did,” Bell said. “[One day] while chatting, I will never forget him saying, ‘Don't forget about the kids like me.’ It was then that I realized the importance of developing relationships, peaking students’ interests and thinking outside-of-the-box when it came to instruction. I realized that no matter a student’s academic ability or home life, I could support them in reaching their goals [and] support them in changing their circumstances.”

After teaching for a couple years, Bell decided to take a break from education and left the district. This hiatus helped shape her into the educator she is today.

“Life is about experience,” Bell said. “It's the best way to learn from mistakes, overcome obstacles, develop new dreams and develop into your best self. I learned this about myself during that time and now have the skills to continue to explore and enjoy the adventure. In my current role, I view extended learning as an experience, and it is my hope that students will have the experiences they need to develop their best selves.”

When Bell returned to the district in 2015, she brought with her a renewed vision and sense of purpose in her career. Her time spent working in and outside of public education has led to some important advice that she shares with her fellow educators.

“Education is and should always be fun for both students and educators,” Bell said. “When we are having fun, we are creative, ambitious, collaborative and so much more. It is when we are having fun, we truly do great things.”