When she was in high school, Jennifer Cox was torn between two career paths – becoming an educator or becoming a hairdresser. After some advice from her mother and personal reflection, Cox landed on teaching.
“My mom said to me, ‘You’re going to work long hours and be on your feet all day if you become a hairdresser,’” Cox said. “Little did she know that that’s what you do as a teacher, too. We laugh about that. But I chose teaching because I just love children, and I felt this passion to do better for the world.”
It’s safe to say that this award-winning principal from Morgantown’s Skyview Elementary School made the right decision. In May 2017, Cox was surprised at her school’s annual charity assembly with the news that she had been selected as the West Virginia’s National Distinguished Principal, an award given by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
“I knew that I had been nominated, but never in a million years did I think that I would be chosen out of the state of West Virginia,” Cox said. “It’s just such a huge honor.”
On Oct. 12 and 13, Cox traveled to Washington, D.C. with principals from every U.S. state to receive her award. While there, Cox had the opportunity to take a private tour of the Capitol, visit the White House and attend a reception at the National Portrait Gallery.
Though traveling around the nation’s capital was exciting, Cox found the most rewarding part of her experience to be connecting with principals from all over the country.
“To get together in D.C. with all the other principals was amazing,” Cox said. “You see that education is the same if you’re in a rich state, if you’re in a poor state. It was good to see that we all have the same struggles and we all have the same celebrations with our students along the way.”
One of Cox’s many achievements as principal of Skyview Elementary School has been implementing a student leadership program in partnership with Dr. Bernard Jones, program director for assessment of educator preparation at CEHS.
The program is geared toward fourth and fifth-grade students who have leadership potential but may not have had the opportunity to be leaders. Those students become part of a leadership team and implement projects to improve their school and community. A past project that’s still in use at Skyview today is a friendship bench on the school playground.
“If students don’t have anyone to play with, they go and sit on this bench,” Cox said. “Our leadership team is trained to recognize that the person needs a friend and they go and play with them.”
Each member of the leadership team is paired with a WVU student mentor, a process that Jones facilitates. Now in its third year, the program continues to flourish and produce student leaders.
“It’s something that the middle school teachers have noticed,” Cox said. “They see kids who might not be typical leaders having a better leadership role when they get to the middle school.”
Cox, who earned her BA in elementary education, MA in special education and certificate in educational leadership at CEHS, is no stranger to collaborating on projects like the student leadership program. According to Cox, it’s one of the most important things she learned during her time in college.
“In education, there’s a lot of collaborative work, and it was wonderful to work collaboratively with people from all over who had the same interests,” Cox said.