LAKE PLACID – When the last bell rings and students run into the sun-drenched landscape for summer vacation, teachers often don’t go with them.
For Jessica Kelly, a fifth-grade math teacher at the Lake Placid Elementary School, that was the same moment she began preparing for the upcoming school year.
Kelly, 37, will see her second class of students at LPES on Sept. 5. She started at the school last year after one of the teachers who’d inspired her as a student here retired.
Jessica Kelly, a fifth-grade math teacher at the Lake Placid Elementary School, sits in her home kitchen Tuesday, Aug. 13.
(News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)
Kelly’s teaching career stretches back 15 years. After she graduated from the Lake Placid High School, she attended SUNY Potsdam, where she got a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in special education. She graduated in 2003 and a few months later got her first teaching gig at Mountain Lake Academy, a Lake Placid-based program for boys who need specialized education.
That work was so rewarding, Kelly said, that she stayed there for three years before moving to Alexandria Bay, where she worked at another school for five years. It was when her son Chase was born that she decided to return to her hometown.
“This is where I wanted to raise my child,” she said.
Kelly wanted her son to have some of the same opportunities she had growing up, opportunities she feels many people don’t realize are unique to Lake Placid as a major sports hub. Her stepfather was Howard Siler Jr., the first coach of the Jamaican bobsled team ahead of the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta. She has fond memories of the team staying at their home when she was 6 years old.
Kelly returned to Mountain Lake Academy and worked there for another seven years before the position at LPES opened up. She described the job as a “unicorn,” something rare and dream-like. It wasn’t just having the opportunity to teach at her alma mater that attracted her to the position. It was also a sense of dedication to her community, a desire to give back something of what she’d gotten during her childhood here in “God’s country,” as her grandfather used to say of the Olympic Village.
Working at LPES makes Kelly want to be a better person and continue to strive to do more for her students.
In the summer, Kelly works three jobs – as an education consultant for Mountain Lake Academy, a babysitter at Whiteface Lodge and respite caregiver for local parents – on top of volunteer work at planning for the next school year.
“You’re never off,” Kelly said of teaching.
She compared teachers’ schedule to that of a contractor. Most have a 10-month contract, and they get paid for the time they work. Teachers generally don’t get paid in the summer unless they teach summer school or have a 12-month contract, but most still go into school regularly throughout the season.
Kelly also serves on the Lake Placid/North Elba Development Commission’s Housing Committee, a subject she believes may have long-term effects on the local schools as families with children are pushed out of the area by a lack of affordable housing.
When her students left for the summer in June, Kelly also moved into a new home. She and her husband, a contractor, completely gutted a modest house on the outskirts of the village, remodeled it and moved their small family into their new home while working full-time jobs.
All in all, it’s been a busy summer for Kelly.
As the new school year approaches, she continues to research new ways to make math fun for her students, set up the classroom for their arrival and brainstorm ways to bring parents into the mix. She’s looking forward to seeing her colleagues again and getting a fresh start.
“I’m looking forward to meeting my new students,” she said.