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Alumni Features HDFS

An HDFS degree propels alumna to a national teaching award

Jennifer Macias Morris, ’11, is a first-grade Spanish immersion teacher who integrates multiple innovative opportunities to teach her students useful skills for the workplace, despite only being in the first grade.

Jennifer Morris teaching in the classroom

By Alexis Croisdale

Human development and family sciences alumna Jennifer Macias Morris, ’11, was recently selected as a grand prize winner in the Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation Teacher Innovator Awards.  

Jennifer is currently a first-grade Spanish immersion teacher for the Spokane Public Language Immersion program at the Libby Center, an option school through Spokane Public Schools in Washington. 

The award is given to 10 teachers in the United States who show the habits of an innovator in the classroom, including teachers who inspire their students to challenge the rules, take risks, demonstrate collaboration and empathy, and teach the value of learning from failure and staying curious. 

In the classroom, Jennifer integrates multiple innovative opportunities using the Spanish language to provide her students with skill sets needed for the workplace despite only being in first grade.  

Jennifer Morris (middle) with family at her graduation from Oregon State University
Jennifer (middle) with her family at her graduation from Oregon State University

“I aspire to be an elementary educator who motivates students to value education from a young age and encourage them to push beyond boundaries, just as my teachers once did for me,” she says. 

Her curriculum includes using a sustainable development goals method, where students vote on a goal to work on during the year and are provided a mixture of inquiry-based learning to construct their own meaning of the problem, as well as utilizing programs such as Skype a ScientistCode.orgGoogle Earth and Empatico to visualize and explore the world and future career possibilities.  

A pathway to innovation  

Jennifer’s parents immigrated from Mexico to San Jose, Calif., where she was born. Halfway through third grade, her family moved to Hermiston, Ore. Adjusting to life in a small farming town didn’t come easy, and Jennifer struggled socially during her first year.  

“I was determined to exceed in English, and by the end of fourth grade I passed all the tests and was finally starting to get comfortable in school. Part of the reason was that I had a patient and caring teacher, Mr. Strop,” she says. “I admired his enthusiasm in the classroom and how he got to know me not only as a student but also took the time and made an effort to get to know me as a person as well.” 

With support from Mr. Strop and the guidance of friendly neighbors, Jennifer began to break out of her shell and partake in extracurricular activities, including running.  

Jennifer Morris running in Oregon State athletics uniform
Jennifer ran for OSU’s cross country and track teams during her undergraduate experience.

In her senior year of high school, she was awarded a full athletic scholarship to run at Oregon State University, graduating with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences with a focus in early childhood development and a minor in Spanish.  

“Running created many opportunities for me, and the most important one of them is that it provided me with a college education that I wouldn’t have been able to afford,” she says.  

After OSU, Jennifer earned her master’s degree in teaching at the University of Washington. She’s worked in a variety of teaching positions throughout Washington and Idaho, as well as internationally teaching English in Chile. She currently runs with former OSU coach Travis Floeck and has won the Corvallis Half Marathon three times.  

“I have gone to places and done things my parents weren’t able to do. I am especially grateful for all the people who have helped me along the way,” she says. 

Community in the classroom 

Jennifer says that earning her degree in human development and family sciences enabled her to learn about the different stages of development with children and the ability to understand how relationships work within diverse communities. 

“I am big into building relationships with my students and their families, but also bringing in members from our society to be a part of the classroom setting so students can learn from others who live around them,” she says.  

Looking forward, Jennifer hopes to see more diversity within schools.  

“My path to learning English and becoming the first in my family to graduate both high school and college was heavily influenced by pivotal elementary school educators who set early foundations of academic success,” she says.” The teaching profession needs more teachers of color so students can see themselves in those who are helping them grow and thrive.”

Are you interested in early childhood development or education? An HDFS degree might be the path for you! Explore more on our website