SHERIDAN — Jeriann Jacobson has always liked solving problems. She appreciates different challenges and figuring out creative solutions to best address those roadblocks.
Her current occupation involves plenty of opportunities for problem-solving. Working as the Sheridan College early childhood liaison, Jacobson aims to improve kindergarten readiness and help overall high school graduation rates in Sheridan County School District 2.
She is wrapping up the second year of a three-year pilot program funded by Whitney Benefits that has grown substantially over the past 12 months. Jacobson also started an early childhood festival last year that attracted more than 900 parents and children in its second year this spring.
Jacobson has two children — ages 7 and 8 — and loves spending time with them and her husband. If she has free time, Jacobson likes doing something active with her family, including hiking, golfing or spending time at a cabin in the Bighorn Mountains.
The Sheridan Press: What is an average week for you with this job?
Jeriann Jacobson: That’s a tricky question, because this is a pilot program, although I really feel like around January we started finding some rhythm … On a weekly basis, my communication with providers in the community, asking questions about things happening in their classrooms, curious about lessons and visiting those providers. Some weeks that adds an extra 75 to 80 children that I see on top of my kindlers, so by the end of some weeks, I’ve seen well over 200 children, parents and teachers … I’m constantly planning what the next provider training is. Going and finding the community expert that can do the training, helping prepare the content for the training … and just putting all those parts and pieces together.
TSP: Is there a certain aspect that is most challenging for you?
JJ: Finding the rhythm with the rapid growth and managing it in a way that things continue to be successful … It’s really important for me that everybody that walks through my doors feels recognized and important within this classroom. So how do you manage this growth and connect with everyone that walks through the door and meet the needs [of] everybody that walks through the door? That’s been the biggest challenge, but I also thoroughly enjoy that challenge. I think one of my biggest strengths is connecting with people, and that’s really fun for me to figure out how to make that happen.
TSP: In almost two years, what’s been the biggest surprise for you?
JJ: How quickly the excitement and the buy-in and the willingness to collaborate is happening. Not only with our community providers, but just some really key community stakeholders. It’s been really exciting and energizing … I shouldn’t be super surprised, because like I said, Sheridan’s pretty special, but it’s been really fun to watch that all slide into place … There is this type of work happening nationwide. There’s just a huge understanding that if we get early education, we can get a lot of this to our families earlier, then our (high school) graduation rates are going to be increased and improved.
TSP: It seems like [early education] is a fairly recent thing, like in the past 10, 15 years?
JJ: Our community has been talking about this position and this work, I’d say heavily, for 15 years, even more years than that … There’s so much learning and growth, social and emotional, that needs to happen before they even get to kindergarten, and if you can really get those things in line before you get to school, you’re going to start school on the right foot. You just think of it as you’re building a new house … You are laying a solid foundation. If you lay a solid foundation for that child, they can grow really strong.
TSP: It seems like a lot of responsibility. Do you view that as pressure or an opportunity?
JJ: I look at it equally. I think the pressure to do well, to accomplish, to make things better for others, is what I think propels you to work really hard. But also I love the opportunity, that this hasn’t been done before … I love being a part of that. I previously owned some businesses downtown and I have such an entrepreneurial spirit and I look at starting this as a new business … I love doing something new and watching it grow and watching it build for this community.
TSP: Have you always had that problem-solving (mentality), liked doing new things?
JJ: Yeah, I really think that’s just who I am. I am definitely a glass half full kind of person, and if there’s a roadblock, I like to think that oftentimes I try to figure out how to get around it. I like to meet things head-on, even if they’re tough, and really get through them.
TSP: A few years from now, how do you think the program will evolve?
JJ: I really think if the support and excitement around this work continues to grow, I think what is offered will grow. These program will obviously evolve into what’s needed, but I think they will grow. I would like to think maybe there are some other people that are working with me. We do have a large community, and at the moment, the numbers are showing that there’s a need and a desire for what’s happening.