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Top of the Class: For the love of education

  • Teacher Jennifer Daniel erases the chalkboard in her math classroom at Franklin High School this past spring. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Teacher Jennifer Daniel in her math classroom at Franklin High School this past spring. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Franklin High’s Jennifer Daniel has returned to her alma mater where she teaches math. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Teacher Jennifer Daniel erases the chalkboard in her math classroom at Franklin High School this past spring. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Teacher Jennifer Daniel in her math classroom at Franklin High School this past spring. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Teacher Jennifer Daniel looks over her chalkboard in her math classroom at Franklin High School this past spring. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • —Courtesy

  • Franklin High graduate Derrick Sylvester, shown here at an event out West, loves the diverse community in Las Vegas. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 9/1/2019 9:00:47 PM

For Jennifer Daniel and Derrick Sylvester, their love of education guided their career choices.

Daniel, Franklin High School’s valedictorian in 2011, was inspired by a math teacher, Mr. Shorey, who pushed her to set her expectations high, and a band teacher, Mr. Cleary, who made an effort to connect with students on a personal level.

“We didn’t just talk about skills and playing music,” Daniel remembered about Cleary’s classroom. “We would have conversations about what we wanted out of life.”

Sylvester, the school’s valedictorian in 2009, was energized by his father, Dan Sylvester, who is the athletic director in the district.

Despite their similar career paths, where they wound up could hardly be more different.

Sylvester will be going into his third year teaching eighth grade science in Las Vegas this academic year. He just earned his masters for teaching at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and said he likes the diversity that exists in Las Vegas.

Daniel is back at Franklin High School teaching geometry. She said she likes the community connection of working in the school district she grew up in and being able to give back to it.

Franklin is a district that has been hit hard by decreases in state education funding, declining enrollments and a city tax cap. More than 30 teacher positions have been cut in the last four years as the district continues to struggle to balance its budget while losing state stabilization grant and adequacy money.

Sylvester, who has been hearing about the situation from afar, said the adversity the community has faced has only made it stronger. He said the cuts in Franklin taught him what a huge difference a good teacher can make in a child’s life.

“There’s a lot of spirit in Franklin, for being such a small city,” Sylvester said. “It’s had its struggles, but the teachers pour their hearts into what they do. That’s a huge part of the community.”

Daniel and Sylvester were two out of the four Franklin valedictorians from 2009 to 2011 who graduated with an eye on teaching careers.

Other graduates in the past decade were equally clear about their plans to become teachers and pass on their love of education.

“I think in a way, because students in Franklin have to fight a bit harder than maybe many other students do in the state for their education, we understand the value of it,” Sylvester said.

‘I loved learning’

Daniel, 26, moved to Franklin in third grade when her father brought the family there to start the Twin Rivers Baptist Church.

She was a three-sport athlete there – soccer, basketball, and track and field. She played the flute in band and was in National Honor Society.

She said she always enjoyed academics – particularly math and science. She was in all of the high school’s offered honors courses, but it wasn’t her goal to become a teacher.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do – I just knew that I loved learning and I loved school,” she said.

She decided to start working as a substitute teacher at Franklin High School after she graduated with a degree in biochemistry from the University of New Hampshire in 2015. She had solid scholarships and decent financial aid, graduating only $14,000 in debt, which is about $20,000 less than the average college graduate in the state.

“​​​​It was a kind of surreal and weird feeling when I started working with the people who had taught me,” she said.

Her first full academic year as a salaried teacher was two years ago in the 2017-2018 school year. Salaries in Franklin are lower than other districts. Statewide, the average teacher salary is $59,000, in Franklin, it’s $45,000 a year. 

She said she likes that she has a lot of room for creativity in her job.

“I honestly really enjoy it – especially because there’s a community piece,” she said. “I’m already involved in the community here through one reason or another. It makes it a lot easier for me to connect with the students.”

Daniel plays the flute in Moulton’s Band in Sanbornton and has performed with a number of her students at the Franklin Opera House.

“That’s a really rewarding experience – seeing them flourish not in a classroom setting,” she said. “I like seeing them outside of school because of a lot of them do really cool things.”

She’s gained a lot of confidence, too.

“I was always shy in high school. I’ve grown comfortable with how I present myself and who I am – you definitely have to be as a teacher.”

She said another benefit is being able to live at home – in the same house where she grew up with her five siblings, five minutes from school. She moved back in with her parents and all her sibling, which she likes because she’s able to save money for traveling – she and her sister are going to Japan next year. She said she has no plans to leave Franklin any time soon.

“I don’t have anywhere I really want to go – I’m loving it,” she said.

Embracing his new start

Sylvester has fond memories of growing up in Franklin, where family, academics and sports were the most important aspects of life.

He said he was close with his parents when growing up. His mother worked as an administrative assistant at Franklin Middle School when he was young and he has memories of going to work with her. She read books to him and his brother every night before they would go to sleep.

“Our parents were always very present, they were always super supportive, no matter what we did – even if it were something they might not have been interested in themselves, they were going to make it happen,” he said. “We were able to try what we wanted to without fear of being judged.”

He had a strong bond with those who played sports. Sylvester played golf, basketball and baseball in high school. He always wanted to work with kids – he originally went to Boston College for pre-med to become a pediatrician.

In his first year, he transferred to Southern New Hampshire University and became interested in psychology. He considered being a school psychologist or guidance counselor. He did an internship with the psychologist in Franklin, who works with students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“I realized I would really like to teach and have that close connection with kids,” he said.

After college, he played minor league baseball for three years Arizona, Michigan, California and Utah. He said the traveling he was able to do as a player inspired him to try moving to a new city afterward.

He was accepted by Teach for America, a non-profit dedicated to boosting the number of educators in the country, and was placed in Las Vegas. Something he has cherished living in Las Vegas has been the state’s diversity.

“It’s something that drew me to Las Vegas. The program I’m in embraces diversity. The vast majority of students in my classroom are students of color. I’ve had to learn that the experiences they are having might not mirror the experiences I had in middle school, growing up in Franklin.”

More than half of the students he works with are bilingual. He said he’s seen some of the effects of how polarized the United States is today – especially toward immigrant communities.

“Some of the kids who speak Spanish will tell me they’re trying to forget (their native language). But I try to tell them – you have such an advantage over other people because of your language skills. I tell them, ‘It’s amazing and you shouldn’t want to lose it. If there’s one thing you do this year, I don’t want you to do that.’ ”

He just bought a home in Vegas with his girlfriend, but still visits his family often. He was in Franklin for the Fourth of July, returning to the same home his family lived in for his entire childhood.

He said he doesn’t know where he’ll end up in the future – but he’s content with the life he has now and is excited to continue to learn and grow.

“My plan was always to go back to New Hampshire, but as the days and months and years go by, those plans have changed quickly. I love New England and the East Coast, that’s where my heart is, but right now, I’m really enjoying where I’m at.”

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