Tuesday, February 16, 2010

the evolution of spidersmart.

Upon meeting Jeannie Jung for the first time, I was struck by her warmth. I found it hard not to smile. She had me completely at ease within minutes. “People often say, you seem like a happy person. And it’s because of this job!” she exclaimed, her face alight. “I get excited just about buying and assembling furniture for the center! Even taking out the trash!”

Jeannie moved to America in her mid-teens and struggled with the English written language. “I used to dread writing papers. I could never express my thoughts exactly in writing...In graduate school, I realized that I could only improve writing through practice. It was like learning to play a musical instrument. The more you practice, the better you become.” And practice she did -- eventually earning her Masters in English from Texas A&M.

Nearly fifteen years after her move to America, Jeannie relocated to Washington, DC with her husband and two young children. As her children entered school, Jeannie devised a schedule to encourage her son and daughter to practice writing. She took them to the library at least three times a week and began reading the same books as her oldest child -- Jane, then 8. Jeannie developed writing assignments for her daughter and began creating a curriculum for her son’s future. For 6 months, she produced essay questions, vocabulary work, and comprehension questions -- creating over 50 assignments. They practiced writing on a regular basis, and her daughter advanced quickly.

Why not have other kids do the same thing? Jeannie strongly believed reading and writing was the foundation for all learning -- and necessary for every child’s success -- especially ESL students.

She began with eight students, 500 used books, and very little money. Her pastor allowed her to use two empty rooms in the church for free. After a mere month, her student base doubled. The work was exhausting, but Jeannie quickly realized she had found her calling.

Her mother immediately cashed in her insurance policy and lent Jeannie $2000 to obtain a permanent tutoring space. With this money, and a loan, Jeannie started the Reading & Writing Center of Annandale in 1989.

In three months, she had nearly 50 students. The Reading & Writing Center soon morphed into the SpiderSmart Learning Center and grew substantially. Even with her incredible success, Jeannie remains grounded; “I feel so lucky to have come this far because of the people who worked for me.”

Not only is she intelligent and driven, but she truly cares for her students; “I don’t like vacations. I just cannot wait till I get back! I miss the kids too much. The Annandale kids are like my own. Some have been coming for eight years!” Her genuine affection for her students transforms her center into a place where children can be themselves, learn without embarrassment, and improve beyond what they thought possible.

As told by Amber Byrne.

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