Jeanette Rivera: A Force of Fun and Positivity for Students and Staff

Posted on December 8, 2017
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Categories: Featured FACEs

I walked into a cafe in Northeast Philadelphia after taking two trains and a bus from 440 North Broad Street. I quickly scanned the area, looking for a woman, waiting to be interviewed by me. There were a few people scattered throughout the cafe, sipping on coffee or focused on something on their laptop. I ordered a chai latte and sat down close to the front door so I’d be able to see the people who entered. There was only one woman in the cafe and she and the barista were having an enthusiastic conversation about a local school and the cafe partnering up for a Christmas toy drive. The woman speaking to the barista was Jeannette Rivera, one of the winners of this year’s Family Leadership Award.

Jeannette is a dedicated parent volunteer at Moore Elementary, where she has two children, a daughter in the fourth grade and a son in the fifth grade. As soon as she sat down with me, she confessed that she never knew this cafe existed even though it was close to her neighborhood. I was surprised to hear this because it seemed like Jeannette knew the barista really well. It began to dawn on me why Jeannette was one of the winners of the Family Leadership Award—she is exceptionally friendly and open and seems to always have the betterment of her community on her mind. She walked in and created a community partnership with the cafe for her school in no time at all. In fact, Jeannette credits her passion for volunteering to her community.

“Little actions build community,” Jeanette explains.

She says that many families at Moore come from a low-income area. There are day to day struggles that seem to defeat any sense of community, but Jeannette believes that it doesn’t always have to be this way. She herself grew up in a struggling family and realized that little things can make a big difference.

Jeannette has lived in Philadelphia for the past 10 years and is originally from North Jersey. She has had four children graduate from Northeast High School. Once her older daughter started attending Northeast High, Jeannette became a cheer mom, which allowed her to get more involved with her daughter’s school.
Four of Jeannette’s children ended up graduating from Northeast High School, but her passion for family engagement hasn’t left her. Once her younger children started attending Moore, Jeannette began volunteering during arts and crafts time in her daughter’s classroom but soon became involved in a variety of projects.

Some of her favorite projects have been the baby chick project, where the school fundraised to buy two incubators with twelve eggs each. The students in each classroom helped raise these chicks. They learned about the science behind the chick’s development in their classes and every student in the school had an opportunity to regularly observe the eggs in the incubator. Once the chicks were hatched, a local agency gave them a home. She also enjoyed helping a kindergarten class obtain astronaut costumes to complement a NASA presentation. Jeannette believes that parents should participate in these kinds of fun projects in order to keep kids engaged. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” she says.

During November Moore planned a turkey raffle. Last year the school was able to feed five families and this year Jeannette hopes to reach even more families. She set a modest goal of helping six families this year but hopes that with the efforts of staff and families, the school is able to help as many as possible.

She’s also looking forward to the ugly sweater contest that’s held among staff in the school. She helped organize the first ugly sweater contest, and it was immensely successful.

Her reasoning behind the event was simple: “Fun things in the school bring kids happiness.” If kids are happy in school, they will want to come back every day and they may even look forward to it.

What is Jeannette’s favorite thing about her school? The principal!

“Our principal is so open to allowing parents to come in and and volunteer in the classrooms,” Jeannette explains. “He has a ‘go for it’ attitude and is down to earth and genuinely caring. The Vice Principal is very enthusiastic and has a good partnership with the principal. They are always open to participating.”

Jeannette couldn’t stop raving about the principal and vice principal of Moore Elementary. Both were actually excited about the idea of having an ugly sweater contest among staff and showed up in ugly sweaters themselves. They’re in tune with what’s going on in the school and have a great sense of the school’s needs as well as which events or volunteer efforts will really appeal to or benefit their students.

“Nothing is possible without principal support,” Jeannette notes. Principals create an open environment for family engagement, but Jeannette sometimes worries about whether parents are interested in taking on a more involved role at the school.

Jeannette revealed that parents will attend meetings and events at the school but that parent volunteers are pretty sparse. She oftentimes helps relay information about public assistance to parents she sees around the school or in the neighborhood and while conversing with them she’ll personally try to convince them to spend an afternoon or two volunteering in a classroom, but no one ever shows up. “There’s always a but…,” she explains disappointingly.

She’s striving to get more parents involved before their kids leave the school and move on to middle school. “You have to want to do it,” she says.

There seems to be no way around this, which is one of Jeannette’s biggest concerns. Her children are older and will be off to middle school in a year or two. She’d like to see family engagement at Moore thrive long after she’s moved on to another school.

Jeannette has made it a goal to increase family engagement, especially among parents of younger children. It will be a difficult challenge but not an insurmountable one. With Jeannette’s passion and dedication, there’s no doubt that she can make this goal a reality.