Teacher Spotlight: Mrs. Janeen Stepler
A Joyful Spirit – Janeen Stepler, Ad Fontes Kindergarten Teacher
By Dean Luckenbaugh
When you enter the bright, new Kindergarten classroom at Ad Fontes Academy, you encounter 19 students, and many colorful items and student work to catch you eye. Yet, you are immediately drawn first to the wide, welcoming smile of the Kindergarten teacher, Janeen Stepler. Her warm greeting harkens me back to my Kindergarten teacher who made school feel like home, and made you excited to come to class each morning.
As you dwell in the room, you quickly sense a joyful, calm spirit where these little 5 year olds are busy, active, and happy.
Janeen had led an in-home daycare program for 12 years while raising and homeschooling her three children. Their plan was for the children to enter high school and to leave the daycare when her youngest, Wesley, entered 9th grade. God had a different plan. Susan Smith, Ad Fontes Math teacher and a church friend from New Life Church of Gainesville, VA, mentioned a teaching position at Ad Fontes. When she arrived to meet Janet Cooper, the Ad Fontes Lower School Principal, she was amazed that the Kindergarten position — her favorite grade — was open! Before having children, she had previously taught three years of Kindergarten in a Christian school. This began a parallel exploration of Ad Fontes for her career and for her son Wesley’s education.
God’s call became clear as she interacted in person with Mrs. Cooper, who had a similar language for children, where teachers are “shepherds of student’s hearts, where knowing Jesus is the first priority.” Janeen saw this same heart in the Upper School teachers, and so her Ad Fontes journey began.
Though new to classical education, it became quickly obvious to all that she took to the classical Christian classroom like a fish to water. As Janet Cooper described, “Janeen intuitively understands classical education and maintains all the right “balances”: she challenges the students academically yet is sensitive to their abilities and needs; she maintains a high bar for behavior, teaching them to be well-mannered and self-controlled, but she makes sure the day is filled with fun, lively activities that relate to their learning. She knows her students well, understands what motivates their hearts, and sets expectations that are just right.”
As the year began, Janeen experienced the philosophy of parent partnership as reality in the school. She found a close connection with parents who actively supported her, and put the time in at home to help their children learn, whether in spelling, poetry recitations, or Scripture memory. It was a blessing that proactive communication with parents was encouraged and well received. For students’ spiritual growth, she says it such a blessing to be free to pray with the child and always bring the issues back to Jesus, even in discipline, and have parents continue that biblical instruction at home.
With the loving atmosphere, Janeen experienced a higher academic standard and faced expectations that challenged the students to do their best. She watches students rise to the occasion and respond to the challenge, and quickly act more grown up in handling responsibility. For example, expecting 5 year olds to use neat handwriting on lined paper with correct names seemed a stretch, yet the students enjoy doing good and beautiful work.
She particularly loves the phonics program, training students how to understand sounds and blend them together. “Kids are sponges for information. I am amazed at what they retain and remember.” One parent remarked, “My child loves phonics. Most schools have sight words. Here, students learn to figure out words they have never seen. By learning phonic rules and using “nonsense” words, they build confidence in decoding unknown words – “That was a real word and you said it!” This encourages students to read early and love books.
Janet Cooper shares that, “Janeen loves good books, poetry, and frequently creates her own rhymes as tools to help her students remember what they need to know. She has created an atmosphere where students love to learn, love to participate, and feel loved and secure.”
Ad Fontes Academy is an accredited Classical Christian School in Centreville, VA serving Northern Virginia families. Our goal is to help parents in equipping their children to be servant leaders, through a superior classical education based on eternal biblical truth. To find out more about Ad Fontes Academy’s curriculum and focus for our Lower School students, please read our Ad Fontes Lower School K – 6 information page, which includes an overview of each grade’s curriculum. Our Kindergarten students learn a variety of subjects such as History, Mathematics, Science, Bible (including verse memorization, devotions, chapels and study), and Language Arts (including Reading, Spelling, Writing, and Grammar).