A Redmond educator received an unexpected thrill — a trip to New York City, a fashion makeover, an appearance on “The Martha Stewart Show” and cash for her classroom and her school, as one of seven winners of the nationwide Jones New York In the Classroom awards for excellence in teaching.
Brigitte Tennis, eighth grade teacher and headmistress at Stella Schola Middle School in Redmond, was nominated by a former Stella Schola parent, Lynnda McKenney.
Tennis had no idea she’d been nominated or selected until she got a call this past summer from McKenney, alerting her, “You’re going to be getting a call about something you won. It’s not a joke!”
Stella Schola is a Lake Washington School District Choice School located on the campus of Rose Hill Junior High. Stella Schola ties all curriculum into history, with students immersing themselves in activities such as building a Roman aqueduct or a Medieval castle. During a Redmond Reporter visit to her classroom on Sept. 27, Tennis was dressed as Queen Isabella I of Spain, entertaining offers from “explorers” who’d bring the queen jewels, silks, furs, rare spices and other riches in return for sponsoring their voyages. Students posing as historical figures, such as Francisco Pizarro, Jacques Cartier and Sir Francis Drake, petitioned the queen for provisions they’d need, from ships, sailors and navigational devices to salted meat, rum “to keep the sailors happy” and citrus fruits to prevent scurvy.
After students were dismissed, Tennis described her whirlwind trip to the Big Apple, from Sept. 20-22. On her Monday evening there, she was on her own but met up with some former students who now work for Americorps. They shared information about charitable projects that her National Honor Society students might undertake.
Tuesday, Tennis and her fellow Jones New York in the Classroom winners went to Macy’s and tried on pre-selected outfits from the Jones New York and Signature style collections.
“Designer Lloyd Boston selected what would look best on TV and we each got a $1,500 outfit and advice on how to wear it,” said Tennis. “Next, we had our hair done. They actually liked my curly hair but because we got a makeover, they straightened it. Then they did our makeup — hair and makeup took about two-and-a-half hours. We changed into our outfits and had a six-hour photo shoot where we learned that direction-following is extremely important.”
After changing again, into Jones New York in the Classroom T-shirts, the winners learned about other opportunities such as grants to help teachers buy books, posters or basic school supplies for disadvantaged children. An Italian dinner followed and the next day they were up early for yet another hair and makeup session before the taping of “The Martha Stewart Show” which airs on The Hallmark Channel.
While Stewart is sometimes rumored to be a snob, Tennis said the domestic diva was actually warm and friendly.
“She came in about 8:30 with wet hair, sweatpants and no makeup — came in to thank us for our work with children,” Tennis noted.
From 9 to 9:55 a.m., the teachers did a run-through with a Martha Stewart stand-in and then the actual taping took place at 10 a.m.
“We got an official photo with her during a commercial and she popped her head in again to say goodbye and thank us again after the taping,” said Tennis.
Yes, it was exciting to be on TV, Tennis admitted.
“But the best part was being recognized for what we do,” she explained. “Teachers work so many hours nobody sees. You don’t just go home when the students leave. There are papers to grade, parents to see, planning for the next day. It felt so good to have someone fill up our cup after we spend so many hours pouring ourselves into our work.”
Tennis received $500 for her classroom, $1,000 for Stella Schola and the $1,500 Jones New York outfit, along with the trip to New York, including airfare, hotel accommodations and food.
“It was a wonderful experience, opening new doors,” said Tennis. “Martha was genuinely interested in bringing money to schools.”
And some of the behind-the-scenes people, such as a hairstylist, offered to answer letters or e-mails from Stella Schola students who are curious about their occupations.
After class on Sept. 27, some of those students enthusiastically endorsed Tennis and her creative approach to teaching.
“Students love opportunities that are all combined with history, using artwork, math, getting dressed up for presentations,” said Ramsey Batey. “Mrs. Tennis always has a fun activity to reinforce it.”
Aliza Ben-Varon agreed, “History can be boring. Sometimes it drones on and on. Mrs. Tennis matches modern day scenes to history and makes it interesting.”
Davii Zarshenas commented, “In usual schools, we have a test. Here, we have a presentation.”
Katherine Jensen added, “It’s more integrated. If we can touch it, see it, do something hands-on, it helps us remember it better.”
To view a video clip of Brigitte Tennis modeling her new outfit on “The Martha Stewart Show,” visit http://www.marthastewart.com/show/the-martha-stewart-show/the-teacher-show and click on Jones New York Fashions.