Jennifer LaPlace, who grew up in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, thought she would turn a practically lifelong love of history into a career as a politician until she tried her hand at teaching in the high school from which she graduated in 1992.
"That's where the passion grew for teaching," said LaPlace, who is on the faculty at Centennial High School in Columbus City Schools. "It was pretty quick. It was, 'This is what I was meant to do.' "
That's evidently true.
LaPlace, who teaches courses in world history, humanities and government, recently was named the 2019 Teacher of the Year for State Board of Education District 6. She and the other 10 district honorees have the opportunity to be named 2019 Ohio Teacher of the Year this fall.
LaPlace was nominated for the award by Centennial principal Stephanie Porta.
"I nominated Jennifer LaPlace for teacher of the year to recognize the daily work she does with students," Porta wrote in an email.
"Jennifer LaPlace is committed to ensuring that education transcends the classroom," State Board of Education District 6 representative Antoinette Miranda, who worked with a committee of educators, parents and business leaders to select LaPlace, was quoted as saying in the announcement. "It's clear she is dedicated to her craft of teaching, as indicated by her many professional development activities and her work to bring history alive through innovative lessons."
"I have known Jennifer LaPlace since the fall of 2009," Lucy Wolfe, the mother of one of LaPlace's former students, wrote in a letter supporting the nomination. "She was the first teacher that I met during my son's first year at Centennial High School. That evening, as Jennifer explained her teaching style and introduced us to the expectations in world studies, she emitted a positive and engaging energy. This put me at ease with the decision to send our son to a public high school. Our son had Jennifer for World Studies and Humanities 10, in which he grew in critical-thinking skills, organization, and was encouraged to step outside of his comfort zone, which has served him well."
In 2015, Wolfe worked as an instructional assistant in LaPlace's classroom for the school year.
"I observed a teacher who genuinely cares for her students and wants nothing more than to see them succeed in the classroom and in life," Wolfe wrote. "Jennifer sets the bar high and provides her students with learning opportunities to help them understand, rather than just memorize a set of facts."
"I've always loved history," LaPlace said. "I knew that from really early on, probably from second grade. My dad and my mom, we talked about history all the time. They took me to the polls when they voted. We watched the news as a family every night, and discussed it."
After high school, LaPlace enrolled at Southern Illinois University where she studied political science and history. She originally wanted to become a lawyer but decided against that. She returned to the Virgin Islands before moving to Columbus, where a friend lived, and obtaining a teaching degree from Ohio Dominican University.
"Watching Ms. LaPlace teach is like watching magic take place," Centennial social studies department chairwoman Denise Shook wrote in an email. "Her enthusiam and passion for both her students and her content area make a wonderful learning environment for those who are fortunate to have had her."
LaPlace, who lives in Canal Winchester, joined the Centennial faculty for the 2008-09 school year. Just like she found a home in teaching, she found a home to be a teacher.
"There is a culture here that kids want to learn, that they work really hard," LaPlace said.
That culture also is supported, she said by the administrators and parents.
LaPlace said she was gratified by the District 6 Teacher of the Year honor because it simply recognizes her for what she does: teaches.
"That's what I hope that I do every day," she said.