A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning. In the case of Janice Kennedy, she has dedicated her entire career to educating special needs students. Educated at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina, and The George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee, Janice holds a master’s degree in Learning Disabilities. She is certified to teach Trainable Mentally Disabled, Educable Mentally Disabled, and Learning-Disabled students. The bulk of her career was in the Laurens County School System of South Carolina, where she is affectionately known to many as ‘Ms. Jan’. She is now retired and dedicates her time to The Echo Project and her church, New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church.
Q: Tell me about your career in Education. Why did you choose this path?
It was because of my first-grade teacher. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher because of the type of teacher Mrs. Evans was to her students. She taught us new words, leading us to read and write, and she did it in a caring and loving way. She made me want to do that for other children.
I chose to specialize in special education because I wanted to help special needs students. At that time (@1970’s), more African American students (predominately boys) were being placed in special education mainly because of behavior issues.
When I first started teaching in Nashville, Tennessee, I had a classroom with no materials. It was a special education class of twelve (12) boys and one (1) girl. There were no books designated for them. I searched the school's bookroom for books for them but had to work late at night creating material to meet the different needs of the students I served. I had thirteen children reading on various grade levels with additional requirements. Nowadays, there are many resources available to teachers to meet the different needs of the students they serve.
When I receive a student in my classroom, that student becomes my child. I treat each one, regardless of race, as if they are mine.
My philosophy is to develop a relationship with your students. If a student knows you care about them and you treat them on their merit, not by some other teacher’s opinion, they will work and be successful in the classroom. A holistic approach to teaching the whole child enables them to succeed.
Can you give me your thoughts on the importance of education and marginalized people in society?
First, I think marginalized people need to know their history. What their ancestors went through in society and what they are still going through. I often told my African American students that it was against the law for their ancestors to learn to read and write. Therefore, you must not cheat yourself by not taking advantage of every opportunity available to you to receive a free and appropriate education. Because of your history, strive for success–know who you are, and face racism by standing up for yourself, advocating for yourself, and being the best person you can be.
I believe there needs to be a different type of education that does not dehumanize people because of race but bring people together. A system that teaches students to see people for who they are as human beings, how to celebrate people, how to encourage, and empower people on their life’s journey instead of putting them down and putting stumbling blocks in their paths.
What is your vision for how The Echo Project will educate young people coming through the exhibit? What do you hope they take away from experience?
The Echo Project is dedicated to challenging and overcoming the fears that separate us, telling the truth, and bringing people together. It will be a place that celebrates diversity. Regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity, everyone will be honored. I want the young people who come to visit to leave knowing the truth of how society has treated people in the past–but knowing that the Echo Project’s goal is to change that narrative of hate to one of love and togetherness– to walk this journey of life as human beings striving to better the world for them and others that follow them.