Betsy Penisten serves as the associate for communications and development at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.
Tell us a little bit about you and how you came to JPEF.
AmeriCorps instilled in me an appreciation for being engaged in your community and providing service to others. I came to JPEF because my values and experiences align with the mission and vision. I believe that every child deserves an equitable opportunity to achieve excellence in school and beyond, regardless of the zip code in which they are born – and I am excited for the opportunity to help make that happen.
Why does public education matter to you personally?
Public education matters to me personally because it shaped me into the person I am today. I loved books as a young girl, but I struggled with reading comprehension. As a student at Oak Park Elementary School, I participated in a program called Reading Recovery. This program identified where I was falling behind in reading and provided me the support I needed to succeed. I know that without the support of this program, I may not have graduated high school, obtained a bachelor’s degree in English Literature & Political Science or accomplished the goals I have so far in my professional and personal life.
You've told us about your passion for youth development. Why this is so important to you?
Youth development is important to me because it’s what helped me succeed as a child. Throughout my experience in positive youth development, I have had the privilege of experiencing first-hand the growth in confidence and abilities among youth who were, at one time, self-conscious and afraid of using their voice. It has been a great honor supporting youth as they overcome obstacles and being a person that tells them, “Yes, you can.”
Tell us about a teacher who made an impact on your life.
There are two teachers I want to talk about. Mr. Feldhans and Ms. Ellerhoff. Mr Feldhans was my 8th grade civics teacher. He sparked my curiosity in government and current events. I remember reciting the Preamble in his class and learning about the legislative process. Mr. Feldhans helped me understand how decisions made at the local, state, and federal level affect people. I later learned in Ms. Ellerhoff’s high school social studies class after completing a project on the Plessy V. Ferguson U.S. Supreme Court case that some of those decisions are not always equal or equitable to all. I credit these two teachers and their classes for my passion in advocacy, government and social issues.