By Crystal Burns
Jennifer Chandler is the quintessential hometown girl.
The 26-year teaching veteran has spent her entire career in Gibson County. She is married to her high school sweetheart, lives within “hollering distance” of her mother, and loves her communities.
Chandler was honored as grand marshal of the White Squirrel Festival Parade on July 4. She credits her parents, Peggy and the late Alvin Harrell, for instilling love for Mason Hall and Kenton in their children.
“They always taught my sisters and me to help in our community, to be involved, go to church and love our neighbors,” Chandler said. “They set an example for us, and we all strive to continue what they taught us.”
Her parents, she said, were the ones that never missed an activity. Her mother chaperoned field trips, and her father worked on the ball fields. They encouraged Jennifer and nurtured her talents.
“My parents taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to do in life,” Chandler said. “Since a young age, I always said I was going to be a teacher.”
Chandler’s step-grandmother Bonnye Ruth Owens was a role model, teaching English for 30 years and showing Chandler the difference a teacher could make in the lives of students.
Chandler attended Kenton School through her junior year when the school closed, and she transferred to Gibson County High School in Dyer. After graduation, she went on to the University of Tennessee at Martin where she earned her bachelor’s degree. She also has a Master’s in Education from Trevecca University in Nashville.
Chandler’s first teaching job was at Rutherford School. She taught there 14 years before coming home to Kenton 12 years ago. Kenton School now enrolls kindergarten through fourth grades. It opened with one kindergarten class, and Chandler moved over when that class reached fourth grade.
“It was huge for our communities,” Chandler said of re-opening a school in Kenton. “It was a light.”
In the parade, Chandler decorated a trailer with a chalkboard message saying, “The best part about being a teacher is who I share my classroom with,” and invited several students and former students to ride with her.
“It was an honor to be chosen as this year’s grand marshal, but it could not have happened without the kids,” she said. “The children of our community are our future, and we have to invest in each of them. Making a difference in the lives of children is what I want to be remembered for. To me there is no other profession that is as rewarding as being a teacher.”
Chandler said she learned early in her career that to teach a child, one must first reach that child.
“Students face many things today, and I feel a child’s needs have to be met for them to be able to learn,” she said. “Sometimes that might mean a child has be fed before he or she can concentrate or focus that day. I feel God placed me in the path of teaching children, and it is my job to do what he has called me to do.”
Chandler said she has never done it alone, applauding her coworkers that include her fellow teachers, school administrators, and the support personnel that help meet students’ needs. She is particularly thankful to her church family, New Salem Baptist Church in Mason Hall, which, though small, has taken on the responsibility of the Kenton School backpack program. Members pack snacks and easy-to-prepare meals for students in insecure food homes to take home for weekends and holidays.
Chandler and her husband Todd have been married 26 years. They have three children, Mary Beth, Mason and Macy Ruth. Mary Beth is majoring in special education at UT Martin. Mason is majoring in agriculture engineering and is on the golf team at UT Martin. Macy Ruth is a rising freshman at GCHS.