For our January episode of My Life’s Work podcast, Nathaniel Liu and I talked to Dr. Jennifer Cartland, a lifelong educator. Although she grew up in Queens New York, she is truly a homegrown hero who has profoundly influenced the education of a generation of Hill kids.
Capitol Hill families might recognize her as the former “Principal Jennifer Smith” of the Capitol Hill Cluster School, but she actually got her start both on the Hill and in education as a reading teacher for 5th grade students at Stuart Hobson Middle School. Once Dr. Cartland saw the positive impact she had on the children in her classroom, she wanted to serve even more children. “What I learned pretty quickly after becoming a teacher was that when you have a positive influence on a small group of children,” she reflected, “you want to keep doing that for more children.” She decided that she could impact more children by stepping into leadership roles in education.
Dr. Cartland completed a graduate degree in Educational Administration and quickly became Assistant Principal at Stuart-Hobson, then Principal of the Capitol Hill Cluster School (Peabody, Watkins and Stuart-Hobson). In these roles, she discovered that she not only loved teaching children, but also loved leading adults to understand how to best support children. She continued on to lead the Principal’s Leadership Institute, a DC Public School program focused on training new principals.
In each of these roles within the school system, she was driven by her mission to serve children, but she also recognized the possibility of bringing her leadership skills and inherent belief in all children to organizations beyond the school walls. She did exactly that in a number of fascinating ways (check out the podcast to learn about them!).
One such position was serving as the Executive Director of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy (3675 Ely Place, SE). This may seem like a shift in her path, but Dr. Cartland continued her original mission to support children and lead adults in this alternative setting. During normal times, the youth academy is a wholistic development program that provides tutoring, mentoring, athletics, and nutrition guidance to children from underserved communities in DC. Under Dr. Cartland’s leadership in response to the pandemic, the Academy shifted its programming starting in March to become a meal distribution center. Between March and September 2020, the Academy distributed almost 20,000 meals and maintained a farmer’s market. “This really gave my heart a sense that we were doing the right things,” Dr. Cartland remembered, thinking back on this shift in programming.
Currently, Dr. Cartland has found a new way to support children by bringing her advocacy and leadership to the North America Special Olympics. She is working to grow the Unified Champions Schools program which promotes the social inclusion of children with intellectual disabilities within their school communities. “There is limitless potential in every child,” Dr. Cartland asserts, and she is excited to be working with an organization that recognizes this in a group of children who are often overlooked.
Dr. Cartland continues to play an important role on Capitol Hill with her service on the Board of Directors at Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave, SE) where she has contributed her expertise since its founding. In these tumultuous and troubled times, we are so fortunate to have someone like Dr. Cartland dedicated to serving her community.
To hear Jennifer Cartland’s story in her own voice and her fascinating description of the 2nd grade teacher who set her off on this path, visit mylifesworkpodcast.org/episodes. Next month, we will be speaking with renowned DC theater actor, Craig Wallace.