jenn nickell


How school teaches us what it means to be a good neighbor

Jenn Nickell, the new principal at Lindley Academy, avoided the teacher life for several years, pursuing a degree and career in acting instead. But 11 years ago, she started substitute teaching and thus began her career in the school system. She’s found that inside the walls of a school lives a microcosmic neighborhood. She would argue even that kids understand what it means to be a good neighbor in a much better way, with much higher emotional intelligence than we as adults give them credit for. As an educator, Jenn pulls us into what it looks like to be a neighbor inside a school.


I think a lot of times we forget, or maybe we just don’t categorize, the schools in our neighborhoods as pieces of our collective whole. Although society often builds themselves around schools and people choose to settle in relation to the schools they want their kids in, there is often a disconnect between the school and the neighborhood. We look at school as an institution or simply a place we send our kids to be taught, not an integral part of a neighborhood, let alone a representation of the neighborhood. Jenn describes that inside a school, it is reflective of mini neighborhood. The neighbors around her school are invested in the kids and watch out for them, creating a harmony between the neighbors and the school. Integrating the two more broadly across the city has the potential to change the atmosphere of schools and neighborhoods.


Not only can we look back at how our school environment shaped us, but as adults we can invest and be aware about our own kids, or the kids around us, are being shaped by their school “neighborhood.” I have three young kids in elementary school and I began to wonder what school is teaching them about community and how they can learn from or contribute to help shape it? Our schools are made of an administrative and teaching staff that has to embrace their own differences and find a way to work together to accomplish a shared goal. Each class is made up of teachers and students who are not only being educated, but educating each other about so much more than math and reading.


As a dad that is passionate about having an awareness of the environments we're in order to be a participant in improving them, I'm curious to know more so I can encourage my kids to contribute to the community. I begin to wonder what it takes to make this exchange possible and healthy? I wonder what it takes to help less healthy or economically supported schools to grow and be more supported? How do we regard our schools as an integral, important and valuable asset to our neighborhoods that need to be cared for? Ultimately, how do we be good neighbors to the schools in our neighborhoods even if we don't have kids that go to that school? 


Our schools are a vital part of our neighborhoods and our community. Teachers take great pride in their work and we put a lot of trust in them to nurture and teach our kids. As neighbors and parents, we have a responsibility to help create the best learning environments possible by offering to help, be supportive, and follow through on the supportive work needed to have healthy neighborhoods. 


A lot of kids seem to have an innate intuition and lack of bias. As kids, it seems home and school life are the two primary sources they glean their worldview from. As adults, I think it’s important that we understand kids – the way they see the world and the ways they contribute to it – and seek to understand what it means to be a good neighbor to them and with them. Sometimes adults should slow down and observe the way kids live, because I think we can learn a lot from them in the way of neighboring.


Getting involved in our kids schools or the neighborhood school sure give us all an opportunity to spend time learning from kids others than our own.