National Liberty Museum awards Newbold resident


Jessica Marine is a hero. At the very least, the Newbold resident is a hero to her sixth-grade students at St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic school in Southwest Philadelphia. Luckily, the people at the National Liberty Museum are taking note.

“What I know about it is I was nominated by a friend, Stephanie Scordia. She is somebody I went to graduate school with. She is a college professor at the Community College of Philadelphia. She nominated me and I didn’t know about the award at all,” the 15th-and-Moore-streets resident said.

The award is the “Teacher as Hero” award, an annual honor bestowed by the National Liberty Museum to educators who volunteer in the community, demonstrate extraordinary creativity in the classroom and diffuse bullying situations, among other things. Marine, a three-year instructor of language arts, exemplifies the award’s stipulations.

“[Conflict resolution] is definitely a focus in my classroom. My school, that I’m teaching at, has a whole school-side model for conflict resolution. We have a peace program at our school,” Marine, 27, said. “The whole thing is to have students, if there’s a conflict, sit down and talk it out. We have a peace room.”

As one of a handful of recipients of the 2011 “Teacher as Hero” award, Marine was invited to a ceremony at the museum Jan. 27, but the snow day pushed it to be rescheduled at a to-be-determined date. The honor, more so than the award, is what Marine is most thankful for.

“It’s just sort of really close to my heart. I was just really so touched and honored to be nominated and then to be recognized in such good company, too.” Marine, who receives a year-long membership to the museum and a free guided tour for her class, said “The whole thing has been really so heartwarming. My school community and my principal really support me. The school’s been really great about making me feel, I don’t know, it just makes me feel proud.”

Marine, however, is still humble as she says she learns more from her students than they could possibly learn from her. The museum’s honor will be the first teaching-related distinction for the bourgeoning educator.

“This might sound strange, but it makes me feel proud of my students. They make me want to be the best teacher I can be. They inspire me everyday,” she said. “At the end of the year, I always say to my students, whatever you learned from me, I think I learned way more from you.”

Marine, a New Jersey native, moved to the area three years ago when she settled in Passyunk Square at Seventh and Dickinson streets, while commuting to finish her graduate degree in English at West Chester University.

“I love Philadelphia and I grew up in Winslow Township, about 30 minutes south from Philadelphia,” Marine, who completed her bachelor’s in the same subject as her master’s at Rowan University, said. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve always been coming to Philadelphia and I just knew that when I was old enough or finished school or old enough to be on my own, I wanted to live in the city. I just sort of fell in love with South Philly. The neighborhoods are so great. This is where I want to stay.”

Once she finished her schooling, she remained in the area while continuing to work near West Chester in the youth services section of a library and the poetry center at her alma mater. Teaching, however, seemed to be in her blood.

“It’s funny because both of my parents are teachers. I grew up with it. They’ve been teachers for 30 years,” Marine said of mother, MaryLou, and father, Robert. “I just figured I grew up in a family of teachers so I was like, ‘No, I’ll do something different.’ I sort of fell in to it.”

Marine wanted to remain in Philadelphia and so she sent out her résumé to a few choice schools and received the offer from St. Francis. She began with eighth graders and moved to sixth graders for the past two years.

“I always knew I wanted to work with literature, that was my love and my passion and I just thought when I was working at the library — once I started working with literature and then also with children — I sort of realized I could combine them and do something with that,” Marine said. “And get them to love [literature] and stories and writing about stories and expressing themselves creatively. I thought, ‘I need to try teaching and meld them together.’”

Teaching was a good fit, and Marine has blossomed in the trade she wishes to continue for many years to come. Ironically, she recently brought her classroom to the National Liberty Museum at the suggestion of a colleague.

“They gave us a tour of the whole museum and we stopped in different parts,” Marine, who made the trek in November, said. “The main focus of the museum is freedom, different ideas of freedom, and it challenges the kids to think about it outside the box and the different aspects of freedom.”

Soon, Marine will again visit the National Liberty Museum in the role of honoree. On the eve of her distinction, the recognition serves only to drive her forward.

“[The award] is really meant for, from what they told me, it’s teachers that led their students and inspired their students to be models of peace and working toward peace and conflict resolution,” Marine said. “I feel like it’s for [my students] and it makes me want to be better, the award pushes me to do better, be better for them everyday.” SPR