The next generation of leaders will forever be indebted to those who have first-hand seen them come up in their lives, and some of those special influencers happen to be the educators of the world. One of those seminal forces resides right here in the Region, and her name is Jeanie Sienkowski.
Since 2017, Sienkowski has served as the principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School. Prior to this job, she worked at Central Elementary School, both schools being part of Valparaiso Community Schools.
This line of work is not new to Sienkowski, however, as she’s been immersed in educating the youth for most of her life. It’s always been something she’s relished, teaching and presenting in a room for young minds to grow.
“I will tell you that I have always loved working with kids. Back in high school, I remember being a part of the leadership class that allowed me to go into classrooms and observe and work with kids, and I loved it," Sienkowski said. "I worked at the local YMCA, and in childcare at the Boys & Girls Clubs. I just always have felt passionate about working with kids. And I've actually been a teacher for 16 years, prior to becoming a principal, so I really enjoyed my time as a classroom teacher as well."
Sienkowski was excited to start her career in education. Once she received her degree, she was able to do some student teaching. It was back in 1999 when she got hired, and she’s since been working with Valparaiso Community Schools for 24 years.
Her day-to-day tasks are never monotonous, mostly a mystery, so Sienkowski balances a lot of different responsibilities each day she struts into work. But part of the thrill she gets from her vocation is exactly the reason she truly loves what she does. She’s surrounded by fantastic people, and she herself is always inspired to make any day better than the last.
“I would say that a big part of our day is that we're obviously around kids. I feel like, in my current work, I'm surrounded by greatness inside and out, and it goes from the teachers who we work with to all the staff we have” Sienkowski said. “They inspire me every day. I work to help and support them, and I feel that that work is just so worthwhile.”
But the people she’s working with are not her only sources of gratification. In the long run of things, Sienkowski is seemingly more grateful for the long-lasting effects she may have on the students she’s been fortunate enough to guide and mentor.
“I feel like being a champion for our kids has a lifelong impact, so I'm just really grateful for having lifelong relationships with the students that I've worked with, whether it's in the classroom or as a principal. It really is incredible to see students that I've had in the past as adults now; it’s incredible to hear their stories and remember what they loved about our relationships in the classroom. You really do become like a family. And on a building level, as a principal, I love the way that we have such a sense of community, how we’re constantly caring for each other, supporting each other, and just really being a champion for one another,” Sienkowski said.
When she’s not in the office, it wouldn’t be rare for one to catch Sienkowski singing some karaoke as it remains one of her favorite hobbies. Her go-to track, she explained with glee, is easily “Killing Me Softly with His Song” by The Fugees.
Another one of her pleasures away from the workplace takes on a more rustic vibe as she’s never one to shy away from spending time with family and friends.
“Outside of school, I would say that I really love to be surrounded by my family and friends. It’s always a joy, always something that I find myself looking forward to. I enjoy being in their company and laughing together, creating new memories. It's something that I will forever treasure,” Sienkowski said.
It also just so happens that Sienkowski is a finalist for the 2022 Influential Women of Northwest Indiana Award, a certainly humbling award for anyone fortuitous enough to be nominated.
“It was such a surprise and an honor to achieve a feat like that,” Sienkowski said. “I really look at that, and I don't know who it was who shared that information with that group, but I feel like it is just an extreme honor to be nominated for something that is supporting women and greatness, especially in what they are passionate about.”
Because of her passion, any student lucky enough to stumble into the presence of Sienkowski is surely going to be blessed with knowledge and guidance that they shall take with them on whatever walk of life they decide to follow.