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Inspiring Young Minds: Mrs. Jeswilkowski Recognized for Impacting Community

April 26, 2024 | By Dorothy Tecklenburg

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Beloved kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Sally Jeswilkowski.

Wylandville Elementary kindergarten teacher, Sally Jeswilkowski, was called to the principal’s office. For her, it wasn’t “Uh oh, what did I do wrong?” No, she thought she was going to Zoom with a parent.

It wasn’t a parent. It was the Pittsburgh Pirates staff, informing her that she was one of the eighteen teachers selected from 500 applicants as an All-Star Teacher. “It was humbling,” she says. “There were so many wonderful educators nominated.”

Being an exemplary teacher is nothing new for the woman the kids call Mrs. J. As a child, when she and her sister played school, Sally was always the teacher. It’s no exaggeration to say she was born a teacher.

“I always loved school, loved learning, loved being a student,” she says. Raised in North Strabane, she attended Canon Mac where “I had a wonderful teacher who saw more in me than I did in myself. She kept giving me opportunities I would not have chosen. Now I give opportunities.”

Opportunities like the one she gave to a kindergartener who was struggling during the pandemic. The child’s mother tells us, “I witnessed Mrs. J’s character shine with dignity at how she treated my little girl. She was always patient, kind and encouraging. My daughter absolutely adored her.”

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Mrs. J’s class reading “Acorn was a Little Wild” by Jen Arena. The WCCF donated a copy of the book to each kindergarten student.

Mrs. J provided opportunities to a boy who had cancer. When the school organized a penny drive to help the family, her kindergarten class gave the most. She’s still in touch with the boy’s family and was invited to his remission party. And yes, he’s doing well.

For her students, it was a teachable moment. “We can always make a difference if we are mindful of others.” One parent agrees. “She teaches students about love, compassion, kindness and generosity.”

She loves teaching the youngest children in school.

“They bring excitement, enthusiasm. They’re excited to learn. They start the year barely able to write their names and progress to reading books. Their energy keeps me young.”

Sally Jeswilkowski is the 2024 recipient of the Washington County Community Foundation’s Dr. Howard Jack Outstanding Public Educator Award, which recognizes a local public educator who inspires children from all backgrounds and abilities.

One student touched her heart and reminded her of the importance of her job. The girl had a medical condition that caused her to look very different from her peers.

“She taught me about resiliency. Despite her challenges, she came to school every day. The kids accepted that she looked different. Everything we do is important because the repercussions can be good or bad.”

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Mrs. J with her award flanked by WCCF Trustees, Dr. Geraldine Jones (left) and Elaine Pappasergi (right).

It’s no wonder parents love her; she works hard to establish parent-teacher partnerships.

“If it’s their first child, it’s their first experience with school. Parents want the best for their kids but don’t always know what to do.” She invites them into the classroom, both virtually with weekly photo uploads and physically. Having parents volunteer “works because parents who see what’s going on can better help their child at home.”

She reminds herself that not all kids come from the same environment. Her smile might be the only one they see that day. Her job is fulfilling, challenging, and motivating.

“No matter how bad a day seems, if I reach one child, I’ve been a success.”