Pam Jenkins, the pupil personnel worker at Milton M. Somers Middle School, believes in building relationships with students and their families.
“I heard a quote once at a conference, ‘Relationships heal what relationships harm,’” Jenkins said. “A lot of children have had traumatic experiences or relationships with adults or other children that have created some form of harm. The only way you’re going to get them the help they need is to build a relationship. I can’t control the relationships they have with other people, but I can control the relationship they have with me.”
Jenkins was named the Maryland Pupil Personnel Worker of the Year by the Maryland Association of Pupil Personnel (MAPP) during a conference earlier this month in Ocean City. Founded in 1947, MAPP provides opportunities for PPWs to build skills and network while sharing experiences in the field of student services.
After college, Jenkins was the school counselor at Malcolm Elementary School for 10 years. “I thought I’m going to be a counselor for my whole life, and I was going to do it at Malcolm,” she said. But after a while, she was looking to move on, maybe go into administration.
“I’m one of those stars align, doors open for a reason type of person,” she said. “I ended up getting the PPW endorsement and the next day a PPW position opened up.”
She spent less than a year serving as the PPW for Piccowaxen Middle School and Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary School before landing at Somers. She has been there for three years. Going from counseling elementary school students to working as a PPW with middle school kids is a bit different. As a counselor, Jenkins said she felt like she was helping to prune flowers, as a PPW she’s trying to enrich the soil.
“My reality is that I work with a smaller group of students, but you never know when at any point you’re going to become one of my students,” said Jenkins, who helps students with absentee issues, whose families are living in or on the brink of poverty, have mental health or other issues. “I want them to know who I am, so when I approach them about their attendance or about their behaviors, they feel comfortable talking with me.”
The relationships she builds with students are evident.
“I love her,” said Jaliyah Wade, a Somers eighth grader. “Every time I’m having a rough day, she’s my go-to person.”
“She tells us what’s up,” eighth grader Sanyah Brown said. “What’s real,” Jaliyah added.
The two girls are best friends. “Where you see one, you’ll see the other,” Jenkins said. “They’re always together.” Next year, the girls will go to different high schools and Jenkins hopes they continue to grow as they have over the years at Somers. “What I love about this job is I get to know the families so much closer. So maybe I’m not working with as many students, but the relationships are deeper,” Jenkins said.
Beyond building relationships, she makes sure students have food over the weekends and stocks hygiene products and household supplies in case students and families need them.
“A big part of the PPW role is to advocate for our students and their families,” Jenkins said.
“And to serve as the connection between school, home and community.” She drives parents and students to IEP and ICIEP meetings and attends school and PTSO events. She spearheaded a Secret Santa program that pairs staff and parent volunteers with needy students to ensure the kids have a happy holiday. Jenkins helps lead Mental Health First Aid training for CCPS employees and has attended conferences and trainings to stay up-to-date in her field.
“Pam has always been a co-worker that can be counted on to support not only her school, but fellow co-workers and PPWs,” said Donna McPherson, a PPW with CCPS. “Pam exemplifies so many characteristics of a leader, advocate and all-around exemplary individual.”
“On any given day, Mrs. Jenkins’ office is a revolving door of students stopping in,” said Vice Principal Nichole Bolden in a nomination letter. “Some students come to just say ‘Hi,’ or they want to share some positive news … others stop in to chat about some of their struggles.”
Jenkins bristles when she hears others labeling some students as “bad kids.”
“There aren’t any bad kids, there are kids who have bad behavior for a variety of different reasons,” she said. “There’s some really challenging kids, but they have something to offer. It’s just about tapping into it.”
Recently, a student mouthed off to a secretary and found himself in Jenkins’ office. He knew what he did was wrong, but he was reluctant to apologize verbally. Instead, he planned to go out of his way to avoid the staff member. That’s not the best way to handle situations, Jenkins told him. She has a few well-worn sayings and “You gotta right your wrong,” was apt for this situation. The student wrote a brief apology on a Post-It and gave it to the secretary.
“For him, that was huge,” Jenkins said. He went from being an angry sixth grader who wasn’t coming to school and in danger of failing to an eighth grader Jenkins could have a productive conversion with. “The growth … to see him come such a long way in three years is perfect,” she said.
Being on the perimeter of traumatic events and crises can be emotionally taxing, but Jenkins tries not to carry it around with her. “One of the things students appreciate is that I’m positive,” she said. “I’m friendly, but I’m going to check you when you’re wrong. Students like structure and accountability, as long as it’s consistent. When kids know what to expect from you, they feel comfortable with you.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 27,108 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Kathy Kiessling, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.