David Ball

For The Record

Perhaps Meri Elen Jacobs passed a teaching gene down to her daughters.

The longtime West Orange-Stark High School journalism teacher’s two daughters, Alayna and Shonnalee, are both teaching in the same school district as their mother, albeit at different school. Thus, a second generation of Jacobs will be teaching for West Orange-Cove CISD.

For Meri Elen, she’s still living her dream of teaching at her alma mater. She graduated from WOSHS in 1981, attended Lamar University, and returned to her school where she’s been teaching journalism, yearbook and photography for 19 years. Along the way she was nominated for the prestigious Reaud Award in 2014 and she won it in 2015.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher since I was itty-bitty,” she said. “I took journalism my senior year as a blowoff class. I fell in love with it. This is my dream job to come back here and teach in the same classroom. My lectern is where my desk was.”

She added that her journalism teacher, Kay Noshari, was a big inspiration.

Teaching journalism, yearbook, photography, being assistant cheer sponsor and UIL coordinator is very time consuming for Meri Elen. She doesn’t have very much free time during the school year.

Over the years as a teacher, she also noticed how students have changed. She believes kids are more hopeless now and schools need good people to care about them.

“I love my kids here. I’m part of their lives here,” Meri Elen said. “I go to everything. I go to all of their events.”

She said there are several student accomplishments that stand out in her mind, but one particularly was the track team, consisting of a small group of kids, even with using backups, that made it through their season and reached the pinnacle at the state track championship.

Academically, several of her students won at state UIL competitions, such as headline writing. Several more have obtained journalism degrees or they work in the field.

“In three and a half years I’ll retire. I have grandkids and I can’t spend much time with them. I want to be a full-time grandma,” she said. “I’ve worked lots of after hours and weekends, but my grandkids have slowed me down. I want to spend time with them.”

Growing up, Meri Elen always knew her daughters wanted to teach. When they became teachers, she advised them to not sweat the small stuff and to look at the overall picture.

Both of her daughters said being a teacher is all they knew. For instance, Alayna said she would play school with her Barbies and dolls. Shonnalee said she wanted to be a teacher before she could talk.

“I never knew there was another profession,” Shonnalee said.

She started out as a preschool teacher and discovered that wasn’t for her. She tried high school and loved it, but she eventually landed at West Orange Middle School. Alayna, meanwhile, taught fifth-grade and it was a no-go. She went the opposite direction teaching first at West Orange Elementary and now the North Early Learning Center. However, she still teaches the older kids since she’s the cheer sponsor and over the Silver Studs — boys who are equipment managers — at the high school.

Shonnalee said she likes the middle school because the students still have respect for teachers and for authority.

Both women are no longer rookie teachers. Shonnalee said she was very comfortable at the high school her first year and it was “a breeze.” She became more comfortable her next year of teaching with that experience. Besides, she said she could call her mom if she ever needed help.

Alayna said they placed her in one of the more laid back fifth-grade halls at first. They then moved her to another hall that was more challenging, but still a learning experience.

“My first priority were the kids and their wellbeing. I couldn’t go in there and just teach at first if they knew I didn’t care,” she said. “When I later saw them they told me they missed me and to please come back and teach us.”

Shonnalee agreed, “You have to show you care about them and love them. It’s very relationship based. Teachers are struggling because they don’t relate to them.”

The two sisters said they are career teachers like their mother and they will probably spend their careers in the WOCCISD.

“It’s a dream to come back here and to teach here,” Shonnalee said. “We have tradition here.”

Alayna said she doesn’t know what a full losing season would feel like at another district.

Meri Elen just said she’s very proud of her daughters.