Teacher Spotlight: Jessica (Distance Education)

As part of National #CharterSchoolsWeek (May 12-18), Options is sharing stories about its teachers, students, supporters and more in an effort to help more people #ExploreOptions.

As a whole, Options Schools serve students from 91 different Indiana school corporations and much of that would not be possible without the Distance Education program. Behind that program is a team of five teachers that collaborate to serve students all across Indiana, each covering a different portion of the state.

One of those teachers is relatively new to the Distance Education program, but is no stranger to Options.

After beginning her teaching career in traditional public schools, Jessica Sunderman happened upon Options Charter Schools in 2010 and was drawn in almost instantly.

“I just loved what they were doing to reach students that had previously been excluded,” said Sunderman. “Nobody really knew what a charter school was in 2010, but it allowed us to reach students that would get lost and left behind in the traditional setting.”

The connection resulted in Sunderman serving as a Math teacher at Options-Carmel for seven years.

“I had the freedom to teach things in the way that I wanted and in a way that I knew would work best for my students so they could understand the material,” said Sunderman. “Every day was unexpected, but that made it special because we were doing service that few people were willing to do.”

For her, one of the most gratifying aspects of teaching is the ability to develop relationships with students. Whether it takes weeks or years, building a relationship with a student is imperative for her because it develops a mutual level of trust and respect, while also getting to know how each student is wired.

When Sunderman accepted a teaching position closer to her husband Josh and their three children, she still felt supported through the relationships she developed with her students and Options team members.

“I also served as the counselor for a group of Seniors and still was able to watch graduation,” said Sunderman. “Parents, students and other teachers were sending me videos to watch and they were reaching out because they knew the bond that I formed with those students and how monumental of an accomplishment it was for them to graduate.”

After having spent just one year as an Algebra 1 and Geometry teacher in a traditional public school, Sunderman saw that the Options Distance Education team was hiring a Math teacher in the summer of 2018.

With Josh, a member of the National Guard, deployed to Cuba at Guantanamo Bay, serving as a Distance Education teacher provided Jessica with the flexibility she needed.

“The Distance Education Match teacher position was a perfect fit,” said Sunderman. “It was a bit of a leap of faith with the DE program not having fully taken off yet, but everything worked out great.”

While Sunderman is no longer in a brick and mortar classroom, she is still serving students similar to those that she worked with at Options-Carmel. Building relationships is still a pivotal aspect of her role, but is now approached differently.

“You have to try to figure out who the students are before even seeing their faces, with nothing to go off of other than enrollment information,” said Sunderman. “It is all about taking the time and investing in getting to know them.”

By getting to know her students on a personal level, Sunderman is fortunate enough to see things come full circle on a regular basis when students connect with her years after graduation and credit her dedication for helping create the foundation upon which their successes are built.