“I lean into a quirky science teacher, Ms. Frizzle persona a little. I imagine one day walking around with the bearded dragon.”
Jennine Solomon is a people person with no shortage of energy. The associate director of the Pearse Hub for Innovation (PHI), director of the Innovation Trimester, science faculty member, robotics coach, resident faculty member of Richmond Hall, and mother of two will slow down only when it comes to one of her passions: reading.
Last year she read more than 100 books. The book on Jen starts in New Jersey, where she grew up.
“For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I enjoyed school and really loved going to Staples to pick out school supplies at the beginning of the school year,” Jen said with a laugh. “It made me so happy. And I was really good at math and science. I loved those teachers, those classes, the only Advanced Placement courses I took.”
She also enjoyed theater and music. Jen played the flute for eight years and was president of the Thespian Society in high school.
She is a graduate of Bucknell University, where she majored in biology and minored in education. She taught in New Jersey, Ohio, and California before coming to Loomis Chaffee in 2017.
“Right near the end of one winter term when I was about to leave my biology students and they had gotten to know me, they asked what sport I played in high school,” Jen said. “And I said I didn’t play sports, that I did theater. I majored in biology and did theater, and here I am performing science for you.” Her students told her the combination of her interests made a lot of sense.
“I'm just quirky and loud and energetic, and I don’t really care what people think of me in that regard,” Jen said. “I'm weird. I attract quirky people, and I hope people find it endearing. I am excited to see people all the time, and that is just who I am.”
She is also this: Jen and her husband and two children live in Richmond Hall with a dog and a bearded dragon. “I lean into a quirky science teacher, Ms. Frizzle persona a little,” Jen said. “I imagine one day walking around with the bearded dragon.”
Ms. Frizzle is from the Magic School Bus franchise. And plenty of magic happens in the PHI. It is a place of wonderment and excitement and opportunity for Loomis students.
“What we try to do in the PHI is make it very accessible,” Jen said. “We talk about having a low floor and a high ceiling. What we mean by that is regardless of a student's skill set, if you are interested in learning something, we have a tool for you from beginning to advanced. There is room to meet kids where they are coming in, and then room for all students to expand their skills in some area should they want to.”
Jen has seen many wonderful products and innovations come out of the PHI, but to her it all starts with people, be it students or other teachers.
“That's why I became a teacher, because I like working with other people,” Jen said. “The best moments are when kids come in here and immediately start working on their projects. They are not waiting for a teacher to tell them what to do. They come in early, and they stay late because they really want to do what they’re doing. To me that is awesome, that the students are so engaged, and they find it so meaningful. They are doing it when they do not have to, when no one is looking over their shoulder, and not for the grade, but because it matters to them.”
Those who want a more immersive experience can apply for the Innovation Trimester (I-Tri) program for seniors in their final term. They step away from classes and take on real-world problems working with local businesses and nonprofits. It’s yet another area that energizes Jen.
Last year Jen was awarded the Palmer Fellowship, a multi-year grant that will help her continue her professional development. The Keller and MacLean families established the Palmer Fellowships in honor of former faculty members Ann and Keith Palmer to recognize superb teaching at Loomis Chaffee, with the specific goal of fostering innovative teaching. She already has gone to a couple of conferences and incorporated what she learned into her work.
By the way, Jen has not been to Staples in a while.
“My school supplies look very different now.,” Jen said. “I don’t have three-ring binders anymore. I now will passionately bend anyone's ear for 10 minutes about Rocketbook reusable notebooks and Pilot Frixion pens, which are erasable.”
Science Department Head Neil Chaudhary introduced Jen to the concept. The beauty is it saves paper. You can scan all the material from the notebook, save it, wipe it clean and start again.
The magic of innovation.