Benjamin Franklin Middle School math teacher Jennifer Hatch is a 26-year veteran educator with some impressive credentials. In 2015 she was awarded the Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics Teacher of the Year award. And in 2022-2023 she garnered recognition from all over the state for her creative use of classroom gardening to teach math. Her awards include:

  • 2023 National Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year
  • 2023 Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year
  • 2023-2024 Region 6 Teacher of the Year
  • 2022 & 2023 Franklin County Teacher of the Year
  • 2022 Benjamin Franklin Middle School Teacher of the Year

Her recent awards came after an innovative teaching shift she implemented after COVID. Jennifer was inspired to grow her own food during lockdowns and supply chain shortages because gardening gave her a way to ease anxiety and learn something new. When students and teachers returned to the classroom, she decided to offer her students the sense of wonder and empowerment gardening had given her. So, she set up a hydroponic gardening system in the classroom and showed students how to apply math skills to gather data, record plant measurements and growth, and analyze the data they gathered.

In May, the entire country sets aside a week to recognize the outstanding contributions of teachers everywhere. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we spent some time with Jennifer to hear about her creative life outside the classroom and why she thinks Franklin County Shines.

What’s your favorite part of living in Franklin County?

Franklin County is absolutely beautiful. You have all the farms and horse pastures in addition to the lake area. You are a minute’s drive from fishing, hiking, frisbee golf, the farmer’s market, the music of the Harvester, and floating down the river, just to name a few.
What do you do for fun outside of work?

I have 3 amazing daughters who are involved with everything from Marching Band, Cross Country, Soccer, piano, choir, Olympic of the Minds, and art. When I am not supporting them I am singing, drawing, or kayaking.

What’s your favorite place in Franklin County?

I am drawn to the farmer’s market and the downtown area of Franklin County. The talent is just impressive. The crafts, homemade jams, locally grown veggies, local honey, and spices. Also, you can see local talents such as the Downtown Pickers, the High School Marching Band, students clogging, and various other dances and musicians throughout the year.

What is the coolest thing about Franklin County?

The people here are the most intelligent and kind-hearted people that I have ever met. I’ll give you just a few examples. I dropped my debit card in the parking lot and the person who found it searched me out on FB and contacted me so they could return it. My car broke down and 3 people jumped out of their vehicle to help push me into the gas station. My car broke down again and the tow truck driver squeezed me and my daughters (and chicks!) into his truck in addition to staying late to help me. Recently, when I entered a restaurant, someone held the door for me and my friend. While trying to open a door, I dropped boxes I was juggling, and a young man ran to help me. I was in a parking lot trying to start my car and it was making a crazy noise. A young man in the parking lot heard and offered to help. When I wanted to learn about gardening, numerous people reached out to help me. When I had Covid, several people dropped food on my porch for my children. I could go on and on! How we treat each other really does matter and in Franklin County people treat each other with kindness.

What’s your go-to conversation starter?

“Hello!” In this town, all you need to do is say hello, and people will usually respond in a kind manner and then the conversation just begins. I find that if you just make eye contact and smile people will open a conversation with you about anything. I’m a math teacher. So, my favorite topics are centered around mathematics (although most don’t seem to enjoy it as much as I do!). My second topic would be centered around food or cooking.

What advice do you have for finding or meeting new people?

In the churches and any community event, you will find that people are very open and kind. If you are new to town, find a church and they will take you in and get you situated.
What professional groups/organizations are you involved in?

I am a member of Franklin County’s Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee. I am the Region 6 representative for The Virginia Council of Mathematics Specialists where I regularly present at conferences and do professional development. I serve on the women’s committee for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in addition to being one of the youth camp leaders. As a member of the Just Serve organization, I lead a service project making blankets for, “My Very Own Blanket,” a nonprofit organization which gives foster children a new handmade blanket with a loving inspirational message attached. Most recently, I organized a club for middle school students interested in agriculture and will be starting a raised bed gardening to add to my hydroponic garden in my classroom. We are looking for sponsors to help with this new project if anyone reading is interested!
What does #FranklinCountyShines mean to you?

It’s all about spreading good news! It’s a great feeling to read about all the wonderful things going on in Franklin County. There is a rich history here and lots of growth and success to shine a light on. There is so much to enjoy about Franklin County and #FranklinCountyShines is a great way for us to show the diverse talent and passion here.

Franklin County Shines is a series about the people and places that make Franklin County one of the best places to live, work, and play. #FranklinCountyShines