Jennifer Kenyeres, educator. Illustration: Sam Hester

Jennifer Kenyeres: Creating warmth in cold times

The 2020 school year started with a bang but has ended with a stutter.’

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To close out 2020, we're bringing you 20 stories from an extraordinary year. Doctors. Teachers. Entrepreneurs. Activists. These are the stories of ordinary Albertans who were changed by circumstances beyond their control—and what they did to make their worlds, and ours, a little better.



Almost 10 years ago, educator Jennifer Kenyeres helped set up one of Calgary’s first junior high gay-straight alliances (GSAs)—she knows how important schools are to student wellness.

Now a vice principal at a different school, she’s supporting students and staff through an unprecedented year. “It’s almost like this war that we have to get on top of, or we’re going to lose a lot in the future,” she described.

Kenyeres says her role in this fight is to protect her students’ mental and physical health. She sees them struggling to navigate social complexities behind masks, ghost out after an absence, and wrestle with anxiety.

It’s just so much for kids to navigate and it’s exhausting for them.

Jennifer Kenyeres

“It’s just so much for kids to navigate and it’s exhausting for them and they’re just…” she trails off, as if the words feel too heavy in her mouth. “We’re almost in mid-November and the kids—you can just feel they’re fading out.”

Her staff are tired, too. Creating relationships through computer screens and masks is hard, as is keeping on top of cleaning—and they don’t even have the team-building activities to keep their morale up.

“[This year] has taught me to prioritize and to realize what needs have to be addressed before any kind of learning can even take place,” Kenyeres said, and she’s had to find creative ways of connecting.

Kenyeres has started writing spoken word poems and sharing them online. Grieving the school year in June, she captured how students might be feeling in a poem titled “I Didn’t Mean This”:

“With deadlines approaching as fast and furious as NASCAR/ I never anticipated being sidelined by disaster/ My anxiety should have come from a unit test, PAT, the sound of a playoff buzzer/ …The 2020 school year started with a bang but has ended with a stutter.”

This year has taught me to prioritize and to realize what needs have to be addressed before any kind of learning can even take place.

Jennifer Kenyeres

Kenyeres heard from students and parents who told her how emotional the poem made them; these moments of shared meaning are helping the school through.

To a similar end, she and her wife have started a clothing company called Committed to Kindness. The proceeds will go to community initiatives making the world better.

As in her work as an administrator, Kenyeres’ new business is centered around creating warmth in cold times.

“We want to make it a movement that people can look out and see that you are committed, you are a safe person,” she said. “You are somebody that can be approached to help.”

Brianna Sharpe is a freelance journalist who covers LGBTQ2S+ issues, politics, parenting, and more. She lives on a mini-acreage in the Alberta foothills with her family.

CORRECTION 12/07/2020 We originally misspelled Kenyeres last name in the story. The Sprawl regrets the error.

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