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Lessons Learned: Teacher Reconnects with Inspiring Former Teacher

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Jennifer Young Beck, Kate Stockwell Strempel,

After 26 years, Jennifer Young Beck and her former fifth-grade student, Kate Stockwell Strempel, enjoyed a reunion lunch. After Condit, Kate attended Trafton Academy, graduated from Bellaire High School then attended Curry College. Kate is now a kindergarten teacher at Travis Elementary. Jennifer currently teaches theology to fifth and sixth graders at Duchesne. 

Jennifer Beck has been teaching for nearly three decades, the last 24 at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, her alma mater. Recently, she received a Facebook message asking if she’d ever taught at Condit Elementary. She didn’t recognize the sender’s name or photo, but Jennifer had taught at Condit years before.

So, she replied confirming that she had taught there from 1991-96 – her first job out of college. At the time, Jennifer wasn’t married; her students knew her as Mrs. Young. 

The reply read: “My name is Kate (last name was Stockwell). I was in your fifth grade class 1993-1994. I found my journal from your class the other day and thought it would be fun to share with you.”

Jennifer remembered having Kate in her class. She said Kate had stood out because “she was one of those delightful students that always behaved, worked hard and tried her best.” 

Journal

Kate Stockwell Strempel’s treasured fifth-grade journal that she used in Ms. Young’s class at Condit Elementary in 1993-94. Even at just 11 years old, Kate knew her dream was to be not only a teacher, but one of the best teachers ever. 

Jennifer was delighted to hear from Kate after all these years. It was a particularly moving moment when Kate messaged a photo of a journal entry. Jennifer smiled upon seeing Kate’s classic 11-year-old, large, loopy handwriting. One entry read: “If I could be famous I would like to be famous for teaching in a fabulous way that nobody else can because one day I am going to grow-up someday and be the best teacher ever.” 

Jennifer said reading Kate’s hopes for the future – and the fact that it came true! – made her tear up. “We need teachers like you in this world,” she told Kate.

Their correspondence continued with Kate sharing the good news that she was named the 2019-2020 Teacher of the Year at her school, Travis Elementary in the Heights. She’s been teaching kindergarten there for 10 years. 

After she received this honor, she decided to reach out to some of her special teachers from over the years and thank them for believing in her. Mrs. Young (Jennifer) was at the top of her list. 

Kate said, “I always struggled in school. Math was especially hard. Mrs. Young would help me with homework after school and was such a support for my single mom.”

Kate’s mom, Marcia Stockwell, shared, “Ms. Young was an all-in teacher. Kate wasn’t just her student. She made a connection with Kate, me, and our family."

Even after teaching hundreds of students over the years, the Stockwell family was memorable to Jennifer as well. “I taught Kate and her sister [Beth Stockwell Vanderkolk]. Mrs. Stockwell was a super mom! She was raising three amazing girls [including Megan Stockwell] and I admired her for that. Their family was also very supportive of Condit!” Jennifer remembered that Marcia was the type of parent that you could depend on for help at any time, even last minute – always with a huge smile on her face. 

After Kate and Jennifer’s correspondence, the veteran teacher realized she might have some vintage treasures of her own. Jennifer has a wicker basket that holds special notes she has received from students over the years. After digging through 30 years of memories, sure enough, she found a letter from fifth-grade Kate.

Thank you note

Jennifer Beck, formerly Ms. Young, was thrilled to find out she had saved this special thank-you note from one of her former Condit students, Kate Stockwell (Strempel). She was even happier to reconnect with Kate and show it to her. 

The note, written in cursive, holds a sweet wallet-sized photograph of Kate and reads: “Ms. Young, You have been an excellent teacher. I will always remember you, Love, Kate Stockwell.” The words excellent, teacher and always are underlined twice in red marker, a high honor in the world of a fifth grader.

Jennifer and Kate reunited in person for a lunch that turned into a three-hour visit, with each sharing what they’ve been up to over the years. They laughed when they realized they only live about five minutes apart from each other these days. 

In addition to being named Teacher of the Year for her school, Kate was also in the running for the Educator of the Year for Houston Independent School District. She was one of six finalists selected from 280 schools based on performance date and essays. “My Teacher of the Year essay is exactly about what Jennifer taught. In order to be an effective teacher, you must connect with the child on an emotional level. You must help your student to feel safe and loved first and foremost. When a student feels safe to take risks and safe to make a mistake, they will push themselves to worker harder than the teacher ever can. Even as a fifth grade student, Jennifer sent me a powerful message about being a teacher.”

Another encouraging mentor for Kate was Condit third-grade teacher, Martha Fields. Unfortunately, Kate was unable to reconnect with Mrs. Fields because she passed away in 2007. Mrs. Fields, who was friends with Kate’s mom outside of school, knew that Kate dreamed of becoming a teacher one day so organized a “student teacher lesson” every so often. When Kate was in fifth grade, she would go to Mrs. Fields’ third-grade class to teach a spelling lesson. “It was one of my favorite memories from elementary school. Mrs. Fields went out of her way to make me feel special and valued,” Kate shared. 

Jennifer said, “As a teacher, you don’t always realize how important your job is. It’s really validating if you’re lucky enough to have a student come back to tell you. It’s been so special to reconnect with Kate and see how much she loves living out her dream of teaching.”

Editor's note: See more on inspirational teachers here

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