For Jacqueline Simms, teaching is like being on stage, mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. But for Simms it extends beyond the classroom — even beyond the school day.
At Anne Beers Elementary School in Southeast Washington, she helped develop a student behavioral program, establish a mentoring program with a local law firm and set up a Saturday school program with volunteers.
For all of this, Simms was awarded a $25,000 prize from the Milken Foundation earlier this month. She’s still trying to wrap her head around the prize and hasn’t decided what she wants to do with the money.
The behavioral program she helped devise describes different behaviors for different parts of the school, such as being responsible or displaying school pride.
Students earn “Cheetah Bucks” as rewards for their behavior. These can pay for items at the school store or can be a ticket to school events like ice cream socials or dances.
“We focus in on positive,” Simms said. “A lot of verbal praises, a lot of building support around the school culture as well as the classroom culture. Getting students to recognize others when they’re trying and when they’ve given their best.”
Katherine Chesterson, an instructional coach at Beers, has been working with Simms for four years. Chesterson said these programs were collaborative efforts, but she said Simms was the catalyst for many of them.
“If you have a project or a problem and you need somebody to jump into action, she’s the person to go to,” Chesterson said. “A lot of people talk about these kind of things, but she does them.”
A graduate of Cardozo High School in Washington, Simms spent several years working for a commercial real estate firm, working in former U.S. senator William Brock’s office and working for an education nonprofit group before starting in the classroom.
Simms said she subconsciously knew she wanted to be a teacher even when she was young. Despite that, she described the transition to teaching as a “culture shock” and said it took about a year to adjust.
Simms said when she started working at Anne Beers, the staff worked in “silos,” and there wasn’t a lot of collaboration.
“And now, we’re on so many different levels. We have so many different committees and meetings,” Simms said. “So it’s like talking to extended family members but on an ongoing basis, so we’re always seeing them.”
Whether it’s working with colleagues or with students, Chesterson said Simms brings a great deal of energy to her work.
“Her kids stay on their toes the whole time in a good way. Not one minute in Ms. Simms’s class is wasted,” Chesterson said. “She makes the most out of every minute that she has in her students, and it’s an engaging and exciting atmosphere that she creates in her classroom.”
Extroverted and vocal in the classroom, Simms said she thinks it’s important to maintain balance in her life, and that she is much quieter at home. She lives with her husband, Kevin Simms, and their 16-year-old son Kevin Simms Jr. Her daughter, Sakira Latimer, 28, works with Prince George’s County public schools, and her son, Paul Latimer, 24, is a member of the U.S. Army and is abroad in Germany.
In her free time, Simms said she enjoys photography and running and finds listening to music or looking at art relaxing.
“I kind of want to be by myself. I kind of need time to regroup so you can come in and do it all over again,” she said. “I think a balanced life is very important because otherwise it can be too much.”