Cupp's goal is long-term student success
by Mark Andrews
Oct 13, 2012 | 2340 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cartersville's Teacher of the Year
Jennifer Cupp, right, works with student Melina Navarrette on a mythology family tree. MARK ANDREWS/The Daily Tribune News
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For 2012 Cartersville Teacher of the Year Jennifer Cupp, taking the role of a teacher means building relationships with students and rarely taking a day off.

“It’s a daily struggle to try to bring literature to life for [ninth grade English students] ... but I like to teach ninth grade because you get to train [students] the way that high schoolers need to be trained and I like to be their first experience for high school,” Cupp said. “I like them to get to know me and it compliments me so much that I have students that I haven’t taught in two or three years who still come back and see me — they’re big upperclassmen — but they still come back and say, ‘Mrs. Cupp, I did great’ and ... ‘You would have been so proud, Mrs. Cupp, I did great on my graduation writing test this morning.”

Born and raised in Canton, Cupp met her husband, Wesley Cupp — principal at Kids and Co. Pre-K — at CHS while he was working as a teacher, with the couple marrying in 2004. Previously teaching across all grade levels since she began her career with Diane Sakmar at CHS in 2001, Cupp has served ninth graders exclusively for the past two years.

When she isn’t at CHS, Cupp volunteers her time working with Hands of Christ After School Program as well as spends time with her church family at Sam Jones Memorial United Methodist Church.

“I also am back in school at [the University of West Georgia] to be a media specialist,” Cupp said. “It’s been a big dream of mine for a long time and I’m actually graduating in December ... and actually coming up in the spring I teach a college class at [Reinhardt University] as an adjunct professor.”

Nominated by her peers and selected by a third-party committee, Cupp received through the donation-based Cartersville Schools Foundation $1,200 for professional development purposes, such as attending a national education conference during the Teacher of the Year awards banquet in the spring. However, Cupp missed out on the annual luncheon due to severe illness.

“I would not have missed that luncheon for anything, but I had been in the hospital and my uvula was so swollen I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t talk without choking and my sweet husband had planned to go to the luncheon with me and when [former CHS Principal Jay Floyd] called and told Wesley I had won, I just had tears running down my face because I couldn’t believe it,” Cupp said.

She said in the classroom, reaching students is the key to good performance and helping students become more interested in areas of study that they might otherwise find unappealing.

“To me, the curriculum will take care of itself if you can make it interesting and stop and relate personal stories, but what is more important is making a personal connection and I really like to get my ninth graders started with a positive experience with a positive person who they can always come back to,” Cupp said. “... I really like to build a relationship with [students] because that gets to last four years.”

One method of building such a relationship, Cupp said, is to try and relate course material to common interests of teenagers.

“Even if it means talking about Lil’ Wayne or somebody who’s a rapper — he’s a modern day bard, he’s a sonnet writer — you just have to think of it that way just to try and personally connect with [students’] lives and what they’re into,” Cupp said. “The other day we were talking about mythology and I brought up video games because that’s what they’re into.”

She said reaching out to students in this manner is important as ninth graders are for the first time having to meet Common Core Standards.

“We spent the first 20 to 25 days just on essay writing because the Common Core is so writing heavy that across the board we had ninth through 11th grade [at CHS] focused on how to write an essay,” Cupp said. “In fact, at the end my kids were begging me ‘can we please start reading things now ...’”

Cupp said the emphasis on writing comes with more work, but it has paid off and she’s proud of her students.

“For example, I’m required to have four writing assessments from [each student] at the end of the nine weeks, so that’s a lot of essays and that’s a lot of grading, but my kids have handled it beautifully,” Cupp said. “... I’m telling you, my ninth graders could pass that graduation writing test because that is what we’ve hit hard and heavy for so long since the beginning of school.”