Meet Nick Jackson '08
Teacher, Girls Athletic Leadership School
— elementary education major
Q. How did you choose Augustana?
A. Since my mom, Cheryl Jackson-Nelson, is an English professor at Augie, I grew up spending a lot of time there. I remember hanging out in my mom’s office watching episodes of I Love Lucy and eating popcorn from the teachers’ lounge while my mom taught her classes. When the time came for me to choose a college, Augustana was an easy choice because it already felt like home to me. Plus, how could I pass up all the homemade chocolate chip cookies and cherry pies that would be waiting for me in my mom’s office after a long day of classes?!
Life at Augie
Q. Favorite class and why?
A. I had many favorite classes, but the two that stand out in my mind were both J-Term classes. I took “Improv for Everybody” with Julia Bennett, which was an absolute blast. Not only was it extremely fun and engaging, but it piqued my interest in performance and improvisation. After taking that class, a group of friend and I formed the improvisation troupe “Goldmilk Favorites” and performed in the Back Alley for three years. Those were some of my fondest memories. Additionally, I have taken many lessons learned in improv and applied them to teaching in the classroom. Taking that class and knowing improv has without a doubt made me a better, more creative, and more confident teacher.
The other J-Term class that had a significant impact on me was “Art and Architecture,” a study abroad class in Peru. To be honest, my knowledge of Peruvian architecture did not expand and my ability to watercolor never improved beyond the level of a 4-year-old, but my outlook on the world definitely changed. Seeing a different part of the world, immersing myself in a wildly different culture, and pushing the limits of my own comfort zone helped me realize just how small I am and how big this world we live in is. By finding out more about the world in which I live, I found out more about who I am.
Q. Favorite professor and why?
A. I’m fairly certain I am required to say Cheryl Jackson-Nelson since she raised me. However, I never actually had my mom as a professor, so I can’t pick her. My absolute favorite professor was Dr. Julie Ashworth. She convinced me to switch my major to elementary education, and she is a huge reason I am in the classroom today. I have never met another person so full of energy and so passionate about education, and I’m glad even an ounce of that passion rubbed off on me. Julie made me feel like the most important student she’d ever taught, even though I knew every single one of her students felt the exact same way. She always made time for me, and she valued creating and sustaining a relationship with me above all else. I aspire to be like Julie each and every day for my students.
Q. Best Augie memory?
A. There are too many from which to choose! Sand volleyball in the springtime sunshine out on the Solberg sand courts, being on stage in the Back Alley performing improv with some of my best friends, going to Florida for the club soccer national tournament with the Augustana Men’s Club Soccer Team, paragliding in Peru over J-Term, climbing on top of the library just to look at the stars, the countless hours spent laughing in The Commons and the dorms … the list goes on and on. Perhaps the memory that stands out the most, though, is walking to class, seeing smiles and hearing hellos from every single person I would pass. The sense of family was overwhelming at Augie, and that is so palpable in my memory to this day.
Q. Tell us about your journey after graduating from Augustana – first job, grad school, travel, etc.?
A. My first job was teaching third grade at Cleveland Elementary in Sioux Falls. This job was meaningful for me not only because it was my first time having my own classroom, but also because Cleveland was where I attended elementary school. I had come full circle! After a year there, I decided to follow my then girlfriend, now wife, Tina, out to the East Coast.
Tina, also a graduate of Augustana, was pursuing her Ph.D. in Nutrition at Penn State, so I decided to journey out to Pennsylvania as well. I started out in Philadelphia as a Dean of Students for a summer academic program for low-income, high-potential students called Breakthrough. This gave me my first experience as a leader in an academic setting. I then taught sixth grade social studies for one year at a charter school there called First Philadelphia Paradigm.
I was then able to move to State College, Pennsylvania, and finally be in the same city as Tina. I found a job teaching fourth grade at a Quaker school called State College Friends School (SCFS). I stayed there for four years, and my experience there completely transformed my views on what education could, and should, look like. The school culture at SCFS was something to behold. It was a place where students could be themselves, where you felt like you belonged there the second you walked through the doors, and where laughter and learning were never far apart. It was the warmest school I’ve ever set foot in, so full of peace and happiness, and I am beyond thankful for my years there.
While teaching at SCFS, I also made the decision to attend graduate school to pursue my Masters in Educational Leadership. I found a program called the Summer Principals Academy, which was part of Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. It’s the largest principal program in the nation, and it allowed me to obtain my Masters without having to stop teaching to do so. It was here that I met Nina Safane, the founder and Head of School at the Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS) in Denver, Colorado. It’s the only all-girls charter school in Colorado, and its mission is to empower young women through a movement-based approach to education. This means that girls are moving and exercising throughout the entire school day in order to increase their learning and self-confidence.
Nina and I quickly became close friends. She told me that GALS was hoping to open up an all-boys version of the school in the near future, and she thought I would be a perfect Head of School for it. This was an opportunity I simply could not pass up, so my wife and I moved out to Denver, where I am currently teaching sixth grade Language Arts at GALS as well as working to open up the boy’s version of GALS, which we are currently calling The Boys School, in the fall of 2016.
It has been quite a journey for me professionally, and I am so thankful for all the opportunities that have come my way as an educator. However, what I am most thankful for is the fact that I’ve been able to enjoy this journey with my wife the entire time. We started dating our sophomore year at Augie, and she’s been my partner and best friend ever since. We’ve had the opportunity to travel together both around the country and the world, we’ve made lifelong friends together, and we’ve grown in our faith as a couple. We got married on October 26, 2013, back where it all started, at Augustana College.
Q. Tell us about your career – what’s an average day like?
A. As a teacher, I have a difficult time believing that there is a so called, “average day!” Each day brings with it new challenges and new joys because each student brings with him/her new challenges and new joys. So while there is no “average day,” I suppose I can still outline my daily schedule.
The morning starts out with Movement class. Currently, I am taking yoga with my students. Students who aren’t in yoga are taking a circuit training class. After we get our bodies moving, hearts pumping, and minds centered in yoga class, I teach an advanced Humanities/STEM class. It’s a high school level course for sixth through eighth graders where students study what they want to study and create their own independent projects to show what they’ve learned. After these two morning classes I teach three sections of sixth grade Language Arts as well as a Reading Seminar class for struggling readers. In the sixth grade, I have students who read at a kindergarten level as well as students reading at a 12th grade level. It is an incredible challenge to differentiate my teaching to support each and every child, but I am dedicated to fostering a love of reading within each of my students. After school, my time is spent either tutoring students or coaching the school’s soccer team.
As of late, more and more of my time is being devoted to the creation of my own school, The Boys School of Denver. While we aren’t opening for another year and a half, our Request for Proposal (RFP) is due to the district in a couple months. Thus, much time is being spent on the creation of this 600 page document, which goes into detail about nearly every aspect of our school, including curriculum, hiring, budget, mission, vision, etc. I am also already starting the hiring process, looking for a Dean of School Culture who will open up my school with me. Much time is also spent meeting with potential board members for The Boys School, as we’re hoping to assemble a passionate group of individuals from all around the city of Denver. Lastly, I am spending every free moment I have reading and researching everything I can get my hands on. I have stacks of books about educating boys, and we are planning on visiting successful boys schools in various cities across the U.S.
Q. Greatest challenges and best rewards of your current role?
A. My greatest challenge is trying to reach every student I teach. My students come from such diverse backgrounds, all with their own personal stories, strengths, and challenges. The difficult part is differentiating my teaching in a way that connects with every single one of my students and has a significant impact on their learning and overall growth. Along the same lines, the best rewards I experience as a teacher is indeed seeing the impact I am able to have on my students. I value my relationships with my students above all else, and creating and sustaining these relationships is what has the biggest effect on my students’ learning and development. Moreover, the relationships created with my students have had a tremendous impact on me as well.
Q. Greatest professional accomplishment thus far?
A. My greatest professional accomplishment thus far is currently in the works with the creation of my own school. However, it’s the daily accomplishments in my classroom that inspire me to continue forward. Witnessing a student’s excitement as she finishes her first chapter book, seeing the delight spread across a child’s face as he answers a multiplication problem correctly, and observing two students resolving conflict on the playground. Those are the moments when I feel the most pride in what I do. It’s really not the building of a school that excites me the most. It’s the thought of filling it with teachers and students who will help each other grow as people that really enlivens me.
Q. What’s next for you professionally?
A. I will be out of the classroom full-time next year building The Boys School of Denver from the ground up. I will be spending my time hiring teachers and staff, creating our curriculum, budgeting, writing grants, creating discipline policies, recruiting students and families, assembling a board of directors, beautifying our school building, and whatever else comes with creating a school. The entire school year will be spent getting my school ready to open on day one. It has long been my dream to create my own school, and it is such a blessing that I’ve been given the opportunity to do it for the boys of Denver.
Q. If you could offer a prospective or existing Augie student some advice, what would you say?
A. Listen. Listen with your entire self at all times. Listen to those around you who love and care for you, and fully listen to yourself. More importantly, though, listen to God. There have been so many times in my life where I’ve felt completely lost. Only by giving it up fully to God have I received direction. He’s always speaking to us; we just need to learn to listen. My pastor once said, “Contrary to what society wants us to believe, all of our problems are inside of us, and the only solution is outside of us.” We cannot do it on our own, and as strong and independent that we may think we are, we need God’s help.
Q. Tell us about your family.
A. Family has always been of the utmost importance to me. I was blessed with wonderful parents, Cheryl and Curt Jackson, who showed me what real love and compassion looks like, and it’s something I try to never take for granted. I grew up with 3 older brothers, Trevor, Kevin, and Keith, and 1 older sister, Danielle, all of whom cared for and protected me. Now, I live with my wife, Tina, and our dog, Flower. Tina (Harris) is a graduate of Augustana (’08) as well. We met in Solberg Hall and quickly became best friends. Sophomore year I decided to take Western Civ. just because she was taking it. I didn’t need it for my credits, and I ended up having to pass/fail the class because I was doing so poorly (mostly because I was putting all of my focus on Tina instead of on Hammurabi’s Code – I still don’t know what that is). We started dating that year, and the rest is history. She is currently doing her post-doc in Nutrition at the Anscheutz Health and Wellness Center, part of University of Colorado in Denver. In our free time we love to get out into nature, whether it’s taking our dog hiking in the mountains, snowboarding, or just playing volleyball in the park. It’s hard not to get outside when Denver boasts 300 days of sunshine every year!
Q. What’s given you the greatest personal satisfaction since graduating from Augie? And why?
A. My greatest personal satisfaction comes with experiencing joy with others. I feel it when I talk to my mom on the phone about my personal and professional endeavorsand she says, “Your dad would be so proud of you.” I feel it when I hear a student tell me that she’s never had a teacher care about her as much as I do. I feel it when I get home from a long day of work and Flower is there to greet me with an ecstatically wagging tail. I feel it when I can meet up with an old friend and laugh like nothing’s changed. I feel it when my wife hugs me in the morning before I leave for work and tells me loves me. I am blessed beyond belief to be surrounded by people who love me, challenge me, and inspire me, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Q. A foundation for life at Augustana begins with our five core values – Christian Faith, Liberal Arts, Excellence, Community and Service. How did your time at Augustana help to ensure those values remain central in your life?
A. It’s not so much that those values were taught at Augustana College. Instead, I found that they were exemplified by everyone affiliated with Augie. My professors, classmates, and friends lived them each and every day. Then, being surrounded by these incredible people nearly every second of every day, the core values of Augustana just kind of rubbed off on me. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing. Whether I was in class with Julie Ashworth, on stage performing with the Augustana band, or simply in the dorms of Solberg Hall with friends, the five core values were always present. As I’ve moved on from Augustana, those values are still central in my life because of the foundation that was built for me at Augie. I have definitely grown and changed since undergrad, but my foundations, my roots, remain the same. The best part is that I can frequently return to my Augie roots whenever I’m feeling lost, alone, or distant. While this can literally mean returning to Augustana to chat with old professors or attend a basketball game in order to refill my bucket, it can also mean simply getting in touch with classmates. The network of friends my wife and I have from Augie is unbelievable, and they’re spread throughout the country and the world. We’ve been able to meet up with friends from our graduating class in such places as Germany, Alaska, England, Pennsylvania, New York, and many more, and each time it’s like taking a refreshing, life-giving drink of water. The core values of Augustana remain in my life today because my friends and connections from Augustana also remain in my life today. It’s not only a great day to be a Viking, but it’s a great day to know a Viking. Luckily, I know plenty of them.