Meet Jessica Swain, BMS's new English teacher

by Charles Gerian

The newest teacher at Blackwell Middle School, sixth grade English instructor Jessica Swain, started her new job earlier this month.

Within her first week, a window shattered in her classroom, and she had painted for the first time in more than 20 years. She sacrificed sleep and performed a summer's worth of classroom decorating within 48 hours all so that she could greet Blackwell students on her first day with a beaming smile, and so she could deliver to them the same message that is written on her wall: “You are here. You take up space. You matter.”

Swain attended Blackwell Public Schools all her life, graduating from Blackwell High School in 2013. In high school, Swain was involved in musical productions, cheerleading, choir, and served as a manager on the school’s athletic teams.

She then attended Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, where she pursued her passions: education and theatre. At NOC, she was involved in the Roustabouts as she worked toward earning her degree in elementary education.

“I had always known I wanted to be a teacher,” Swain reminisced as she sat behind her desk, completing homework of her own and typing up a schedule for the next day of class. “Unlike most people where it runs in the family, I haven't had any educators in my family specifically. I initially wanted to do special education and then that changed to music education for a while.”

Swain then attended Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Almost immediately, she found herself in contact with the administration at Blackwell Middle School. She was hired to fill the job opening for the sixth grade English teacher.

“When I learned about the situation here at Blackwell Middle School, I knew I had to come back and help do something. I never thought I'd come back to Blackwell in a teaching capacity, but I couldn't ignore the circumstances,” said Swain. “It makes sense, though. I really don't think I'd be where I am had it not been for the teachers I had in Blackwell schools. We have very high-quality educators here, and a lot of towns can't say the same. It was my teachers like Lori Meador and Tara Greer that inspired me to be where I am now.”

Teaching sixth grade, Swain said, is not too different from teaching elementary-age students.

“The strategy is different because of the age and curriculum, but the thought process is kind of the same. They're basically just bigger elementary school kids. They thrive by doing memorable hands-on activities and learn from experiences like that, so that's what I've been building here,” she said.

“The most important part of teaching is preparing them for the real world. … It's leaving the kids with a lesson they can keep for the rest of their lives. That lesson might not even be English necessarily, but it's going to be something. That's the most important part of this profession to me.”

Swain's classroom itself is another tool in her educational arsenal. More than just an aesthetic environment for learning, she explained it was a necessary part of the bond between students and teachers.

Small reading nooks, colorful writing on the room's dual chalkboards, and work stations were all carefully set up and color-coordinated in line with the Swain’s favorite book: “Oh, The Places You'll Go!” The picture book, Dr. Seuss's famous ode to maturity and the adventures that come with age, holds a special spot in Swain's eccentric heart. The walls, likewise, are laden with positive messages.

“A classroom should feel welcoming. It should be a safe space for these kids, a place they feel at home in. It's more than just something that looks nice, it shows them you care. When they come in and see that you put the time and effort into their surroundings, I think that goes a long way in showing them that you're invested fully in their life,” Swain explained. “Especially at this age, children need a cohesive learning environment. They need that positivity and support that maybe they don't get at home or from their peers. That's something their teacher needs to be able to give them.”

When she isn't in her classroom, Swain can be found reading a book, and either assisting with or watching musicals.

“I'm involved with the Evans Children Academy in Ponca City,” Swain beamed. “I help with directing, choreography. … It's a major part of my life, and that was another incentive for me to move back here and be more local and accessible.”

An avid reader, Swain “never puts down a book” and is extremely invested in local authors. She said she is excited to be a part of the Blackwell community once again, and is looking forward to her time at Blackwell Middle School.