Name: Jordyn Kaplan
Hometown: Media, Pa.
Major: History, minors in Political Science and Urban Education
Out of all your extracurricular activities, which would you say have had the biggest impact on your experience at Penn so far?
Definitely Class Board and Kite and Key. Class Board has probably had the biggest impact because it made me much more of a team worker. It takes a lot of open and clear communication, and that was something I jumped into as soon as I got to campus freshman year. I was running a campaign within basically two weeks of coming to school, which was so intimidating to me. I love talking to people and I’m very much a people person, but the idea of approaching strangers right away in college was terrifying. Luckily, I got on Board and I’ve been on Board since, which has been really important for me to feel like I have an impact on the class here at Penn, even though I haven’t met a large majority of our class. Knowing that I can give P sweaters with direct shipping over quarantine, that I can plan Hey Day, knowing that Econ Scream is still a highlight for a bunch of people, that’s really special, so Class Board is definitely the biggest.
With Kite and Key, it just reminds me how lucky I am to be at Penn. Even though that’s so cheesy and I obviously don’t love to be at Penn all the time, every time I’m giving a tour and talking about my experience, it’s very grounding, even when I’m super stressed out about a 20–page paper I need to grind out for my history class. It’s also a great sense of community as well. When I was applying, I’d been around campus a lot informally, but I actually didn’t want to go here, because my dad went here and it was too close to home. But once I actually went on a tour and heard the student perspective, I decided I had to be here. My tour guide from when I visited was actually one of the board members when I got into Kite and Key and I went up to him to say, “Just so you know, you were my tour guide and why I wanted to come to Penn.” He got really emotional, and it was a super cool connection. Now I’m the Outreach Chair, which means my responsibilities include handling alumni collections, homecoming events, and Quaker Days, which are coming up in the spring to connect with admitted students.
How does your dream to be a teacher tie into your Penn experience?
I started my Urban Education minor and volunteer work my sophomore fall. It just started out because I missed working with kids—I babysat and taught at Hebrew school when I was in high school, and my mom was a teacher, so I always grew up reading and going to museums and libraries. Education was already really important to me, but I never really thought of it as something that I could really invest myself into longterm until I took a class my sophomore year called “Learning from Children.” Our professor Gillian Maimon is a professor in the Graduate School of Education and also a second grade teacher at a local elementary school. We would go into her classroom once a week to observe how she communicated with the kids, how they learned, and the learning types that were most beneficial to them. Learning from her was really what made me realize that teachers are students’ best advocates.
I’d been thinking of doing education policy, but then I saw that she was balancing all this activism while in the classroom and building these one–on–one relationships, which made me realize that was what I wanted to do. Through the Urban Education minor, I’ve been taking a lot of cool classes with some in GSE because I’ve decided to submatriculate. Technically, I’m working on my master’s degree and a teaching certification.
I want to be a teacher because I love learning and I want to make sure students feel empowered and capable, but I also think that on–the–ground work is really important and as a teacher, I get to shape the leaders, the politicians, business people, doctors, lawyers, everyone. I’ve always loved kids and working with them, but I never thought of it as something I wanted to do long term, just because there’s such a stigma about teaching at Penn, which was something that was hard to overcome at first. Going into the classroom with [Maimon] made me realize that being passionate about education is amazing and impactful and not something to feel bad about.
Have you gotten the chance to teach thus far?
Last summer I was a full–time teacher with Breakthrough Collaborative, a nationwide program that has summer programs for underrepresented students with locations in 20 different cities. I was a seventh grade literature teacher and also taught a theater elective. I wrote daily lesson plans, taught two sections a day, and had a mentor teacher who helped me workshop my ideas.
A really important part of that was just building the relationships and seeing how I as an individual would function as a teacher, especially because my whole class was students of color. I’m a white woman, and although I was able to learn about the different dynamics of race and socioeconomic status as an Urban Education minor, actually seeing and learning how that plays out in a classroom and a school system was really impactful. Not only was it an amazing teaching experience, but also the students had a really huge impact on me. I still play GamePigeon Connect Four with some of them, because that was something we did together over the summer, so being able to maintain those relationships has been really influential.
How does an Urban Education minor expand your understanding of education as opposed to just education in general?
I love to learn, and I always want to be growing, so with the urban focus you’re thinking so much about race, power dynamics, and institutional racism. These were things that I’d thought about before—I care a lot about social issues, but actually seeing them in person in Philadelphia schools made me really upset: seeing the discrepancy between my education and the education in the Philadelphia school system. Among Political Science, American History, and Urban Education, there have been so many classes that overlap. I took a history class about the transformations of urban America the same semester I was taking "Learning From Children," so while I was learning about things like redlining and discriminatory loan practices, I was also going to a West Philly school and seeing how these students are stuck in poor neighborhoods because of the redlining processes of the 20th century.
There’s so much overlap in studying history and seeing how much different developments have impacted the world. A lot of these issues fall back into education—it’s impacted by race, immigration, socioeconomic status, and so much more. I’m angry, but it makes me want to take action. I know I have a lot to learn, and I’m very cognizant of the white savior complex, so I try hard to just be a listener and learn from people who have relevant firsthand experiences.
I know that I’m constantly going to be growing and being challenged; these are the students that need advocates the most. The system is really unfair towards them, so if I can be that bridge between the students and the institution, that would be really rewarding.
How did it feel to hear that you're a Fulbright Scholarship semifinalist?
Yeah, I found out last Wednesday that I’m a semifinalist. I was thrilled, I was shaking, I was crying. It was basically like college acceptance all over again. But because I, and everyone, had a really hard year, this was something that I did for myself and I had been working on for so long. Having that validation was just really heartwarming and super exciting. If I get it, that’s one way I might teach English in Spain.
What’s next for you after Penn?
I’m going to defer my acceptance at GSE for a year and hopefully teach abroad, and then decide whether I want to do Penn’s program or the same one–year program somewhere else. My goal for next year is to either teach English in Spain or to get a job at a school in London because I’m really big on traveling.
When study abroad got canceled because of COVID–19, I became fixated on the idea of going abroad and having that self–growth but also building connections with people from different cultures. I love Jane Austen, tea, and British history—I’m just obsessed with London culture, so to be there for at least a year would be amazing. But I’m neck–and–neck between England and Spain. My sophomore year, I had an internship at a program working with refugees and immigrants, and for some of the conversations with them, I needed to use my Spanish and speaking with them helped me get it back quickly.
That also made me realize how important it is to be bilingual if I’m going to be working with city populations as a teacher. I want to be able to bring the family into the students’ education, so speaking Spanish would be a huge asset for that.
Last song you listened to?
“I Drink Wine” by Adele.
I feel so basic, but I’m big on Taylor Swift, so basically "Fearless" and "Red (Taylor’s Version)" on repeat. I’m also a big Lizzo girl: I know “Truth Hurts” is old, but it always makes me feel so hype and good about myself.
What's your death row meal?
My mom’s Friday night Shabbat dinner. She would always make sesame chicken with apricot sauce, kugel, homemade challah, and more.
There are two types of people at Penn …
Those who go to Pret and those who go to WilCaf.
And what are you?
I’m a big WilCaf fan. I’m there very frequently to get my iced dirty chai with lavender.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.