Radically Reimagining Public Education in the Midst of a Pandemic
When asked to describe her Fulbright experience in one word, Jenné Nurse unequivocally replies: “transformational.” She explains that her experience shaped every part of who she is: “Not only are you moving all across the world, but you’re immersing yourself into someone else’s culture and their ways of doing things. It challenges you in ways you wouldn’t expect, but it shows you just who you are. It made me a more aware and attentive person.”
Today, Nurse is a champion of education and equity for all Virginia students. In 2019, as a Fulbright U.S. Student English Teaching Assistant (ETA), she traveled 8,000 miles to South Africa to discover the transformational power of education. Now, directly inspired by her Fulbright experience, Nurse is the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Education Equity Coordinator, ensuring all students have access to a quality education.
After earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Virginia, and spending time as a middle school English teacher, Nurse taught through Fulbright at Boetse Secondary School, a rural high school 40 minutes outside Johannesburg. She provided classroom English language instruction to classes of 50 to 80 children and worked one-on-one with students requiring additional instructional support.
Outside of her teaching responsibilities, Nurse led fundraising initiatives, capitalized on community relationships, and organized volunteers to support building a sorely-needed school library and outdoor classroom. She even coached junior and senior debate teams to their first-ever semi-finals. The Fulbright experience reinforced her strong desire to remain in education as a career and led her to seek positions in which she could help solve larger educational challenges.
While in South Africa, Nurse enrolled in the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, and earned her Post-Master’s Certificate in School Administration and Supervision. In November 2019, she began her role as the first ever Equity Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Education, where she now supports internal efforts to advance equity outcomes for Virginia’s 1.2 million public school students.
Shortly after starting her position, she was faced with a new challenge: the effect of the pandemic on public education in Virginia.
“[The pandemic] has shed light on inequities, but... I see this as a refresh, a restart, a chance to do things right..... The pandemic has given us a way to radically reimagine public education,” she explained.
Throughout the pandemic, Nurse’s office has focused on how to make remote instruction engaging, how to promote equity and access to technology for all students receiving remote instruction, and how to ensure instruction is culturally relevant. Over the last year, she has worked to pool resources from strategic partners to support instructors delivering remote learning. As the Commonwealth of Virginia began planning how to safely reopen schools during the pandemic, Nurse served on the restart committee’s equity subcommittee, providing comprehensive guidance on restart plans for 132 school systems to ensure equity across learning, nutrition, transportation, and more.
Nurse has dedicated her career to ensuring all children have the opportunity to be successful, no matter their background. She is laser-focused on statewide efforts aimed at advancing education equity, closing achievement gaps, and decreasing disproportionality in student outcomes.
As a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador, Nurse shares her passion for Fulbright by strongly encouraging students of all backgrounds to apply.
Each day in her position, Nurse lives out Fulbright’s mission of enhancing mutual understanding and making meaningful contributions to our communities and our world.