This fall, the South Colonie Central School District began a new series, “Meet the Pack” aimed at highlighting South Colonie staff members that go above and beyond for the school community. Meet Lisha Kill Middle School Teacher Jessica Lafex!
Inside and outside of the classroom, Jessica Lafex shows immense commitment to her family and the betterment of the community. “I am a mom so most of what I do in the community is to help my kids where they are,” said Lafex. When her child’s Girl Scout Troop needed a leader, Lafex rose to the occasion and now helps to coordinate all of the Troops in her town. She also serves as a board member and the pantry manager for a food pantry in Niskayuna where her family is also involved. They work together to make sure the food there is packed and picked up. In the summers, Lafex helps with her town’s swim team and the farmer’s market. She even directed her son’s play at his school! All of her volunteering activities are centered around her family so they can do it together.
At South Colonie, Lafex teaches English to seventh- and eighth-graders at Lisha Kill Middle School. She enjoys the unique advantages of teaching English that allow her to connect with her students.
“The text we study in this room connects to our lives and reflects what it makes students think about the world. I get to understand my students based on the way they read, and how they think about their reading and their writing. I am lucky enough to get to teach a subject that allows me to get to know them as people,” Lafex shared.
When asked about her favorite memory from her time at Lisha Kill, Lafex shared that the best part of the job is any moment when you watch students who think they can’t do something realize that they actually can. When something new comes to class, the students can get stressed and doubt their abilities. Lafex helps her students to blossom and cherishes watching the final presentations from her once hesitant students.
To Lafex, the support of the community, the students and the faculty makes all the difference at Lisha Kill. She shared that while she started working in South Colonie in 2005, she was a part of the layoffs in 2012. After teaching in other districts and having her third child, Lafex got the call from South Colonie that her position was available again. Upon hearing the news, Lafex recalled telling her husband, “I get to go home!”
Lafex has seen students take more of an interest in reading again. While there are a lot of factors that go into this, Lafex emphasizes the importance of the independent reading initiation that her department has taken. The idea is simple: “If not every kid in your class reads at the same level, then how can you ask them to read the same book?” said Lafex. “I can’t hand every kid The Outsider and say “go read chapters 1-3”, not everyone can do it. We lose kids when we ask them to read in a way that they can’t.”
Instead, her class carves out a chunk of time for independent reading, while also having a text that the whole class reads together. Independent reading helps students to see reading as a joy, not a homework assignment. It also allows students to pick books based on topics or stories they already have an interest in, eliminating another barrier to reading. The implementation of this program is helped by the reading specialist at the school, part of their job is finding new books to make available for the students.
When entering Lafex’s room, you may think you accidentally walked into the library! The walls are filled with shelves of books ranging from classics like The Giver to newer novels like The Hunger Games. The daily practice of reading and discussing the material helps to instill the habit of reading in students.
Lafex received multiple nominations from students in her class. Lafex said, “The fact they thought to nominate me is really touching. They are why we’re here and they are who I’m here for.” Students nominated her for her dedication to academics, commitment to character and involvement in the community. Multiple nominations noted that Lafex is “the best teacher I’ve ever had”!
Want to read like Jessica Lafex? Here are the book and author recommendations from our English teacher extraordinaire!
Books: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult, The Island of Seawomen by Lisa See, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Authors: Kristin Hannah, Jason Reynolds, Jodi Picoult, Louise Lawler
Books: Series! The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, The Divergent series by Veronica Roth, The Maze Runner series by James Dasher
- Pro tip: “When kids who say they hate to read get into a series, they are motivated to keep reading” – Jessica Lafex
Authors: Kwame Alexander