When a fifth grade student at Woodstock’s Mary Endres Elementary School ended up in Principal Christina Sosin’s office to talk after a rough day, the chat focused on how much the student had grown.
The student had one person in mind to credit – fourth grade teacher, Jennifer Waldack.
Throughout the previous school year, the student spent much of their time talking to Waldack, who was willing to listen, Sosin said. It felt like Waldack was always there for them, Sosin said, quoting the student, and they still talk today.
For Waldack, it’s all about the students and helping them overcome.
Whether it’s her uncanny ability to develop relationships or her focus on making sure all decisions put students first, Waldack puts her time and energy toward building up students, Sosin said.
“She’s one of my finest teachers because of her relationship with kids,” Sosin said. “When I see her teach, I feel like she’s been a teacher forever.”
Waldack hasn’t, however. She got a late start in teaching, spurred on to pursue it after her husband died from pancreatic cancer when she was 29 years old.
She spent the first part of her adult life as a stay-at-home mother, watching over her two young children. But after her husband’s death in 2005, she was left with no income and no education, Waldack said.
She did have job experience, she said, but it was impossible to find a job that could both support her and pay for day care.
Stuck at a crossroads, she decided to go back to school at night, having loved ones watch her children while she worked toward a bachelor’s degree. The effort paid off when she graduated in 2011, she said.
“When they say it takes a village, it does,” Waldack said.
Waldack joined Woodstock School District 200 shortly after and became a full-time teacher in 2012. Today, she is part of the district’s dual-language program and leads several student programs, including the district’s new Difference Makers program.
The Difference Makers program takes students who are just under the state expectations for math and gives them an opportunity to participate in hands-on lessons that combine both academic skills and community involvement. Although many of the lessons focus on math, there is plenty of crossover with other subjects, including science, language and history, Waldack said.
The things we’re doing are hard, and that doesn’t mean we give up. That means we try harder.— Woodstock teacher Jennifer Waldack
One project included studying how microphones work and then using them to interview seniors at nursing homes, Waldack said. Others have focused on conservation, which involved building slingshots to launch rubber ducks and included visits to local shelters to see the animals.
It’s through this program, as well as the others she leads, that Waldack is able to instill values of tenacity and commitment, pulling from her past to show what that looks like in everyday life, she said.
“The things we’re doing are hard, and that doesn’t mean we give up,” Waldack said. “That means we try harder.”
The program is still in its pilot phase and has been up and running since October, said Keely Krueger, assistant superintendent for early childhood and elementary education. After obtaining grants needed to start the program, the district needed somebody to help run it.
Krueger and Sosin said they felt Waldack would be a good fit, but with her plate already full from her other endeavors – such as the Let Me Run and Girls on the Run programs, both of which Waldack leads – Waldack didn’t feel like she had enough time to dedicate to a new project.
However, Waldack’s colleagues offered to help her by covering her other programs to allow her more time to work with the Difference Makers program.
“Our staff often thinks about [Waldack] when it comes to pushing and accelerating students,” Sosin said. “I just knew she could do it. ... She shows up every day for her students.”
Waldack also was tapped for the school’s dual-language program. She works with a colleague and covers the English side of it for fifth-grade students, Sosin said.
Although the transition still kept her in her role as an English teacher, the structure of the program is different, mainly because lessons are tighter, Sosin said.
To continue teaching it going forward, Waldack will need new certification, but she was given the option to teach it to see if she liked it enough to pursue it.
She shows up every day for her students.”— Mary Endres Elementary School Principal Christina Sosin on teacher Jennifer Waldack
Now that she knows she does, she plans on going back to school in August, Waldack said.
Waldack said she’s always been driven, is passionate and loves to help people. It’s this approach that has had even the youngest of students, years away from participating in her programs, to come up to her and say they can’t wait to join.
“When that’s happening, how can I not do it?” Waldack said. “I knew I had to find a way to get it all done.”