by Jenna Sutter Brown, M.S.E.d., Program Specialist: Curriculum and Assessment


The older I get, the more I become certain that our paths are forged long before we set off on them. When I graduated high school I had grandiose plans to become a photographer and travel the world working for National Geographic. That was until a summer camp in the Ozark hills of Missouri changed everything.

At this camp, I spent my days challenging and being challenged by a population I was falling ‘head over heels’ in love with. The camp served a population of children and adults with all sorts of differing abilities. By the end of the summer, I joined that path that had been forged for me: I enrolled in the University of Kansas School of Education and tumbled into a whirlwind of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), behavior modification, case studies, student teaching, and more.

I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas, certifying me to teach students who had multiple/severe needs, from birth to 22 years of age. I gaveimage1 the public education system three student teaching experiences, three types of classrooms, three cities, three sets of wonderful students, and three years of premature wrinkles and gray hairs!

While I enjoyed each and every second with my students, I quickly realized that there were serious roadblocks to tapping into my students’ true potential.

My main concern while teaching and upon leaving the public school system was what happens next. Once school was over, where would my students go?

Who would teach them? Who would they socialize with? My greatest fear was that they would graduate to their couches, that all of the years of knowledge and hard work would quickly melt away.

I firmly believe that Friends Life Community sought me out and allowed me to perform the perfect marriage of my educational experiences with my passion. This is a community where I can create and implement curriculum based around life skills, cooking, geography, cultures, and more. This is a community where we can go out and interact with our neighborhood; be seen, be heard, be experienced on a weekly basis. This is a community where we can be silly, gain knowledge, sing, dance, and learn some tough lessons.

I now have the great privilege of being a key component in guaranteeing my dear Friends are not graduating to their couches.

image5My purpose has expanded from teacher to visionary. I have the freedom to be creative with my ideas and see them come to fruition. I continue adding quality classes and content to Friends
Life Community’s daily program; classes centered on other cultures, technology, community access/safety, and more. I also have the luxury of looking ahead and planning for things I never could
have dreamed of, not only giving us better access to the community, but bringing the community to us!

My goal is to make Friends Life Community the safest, most realistic, and best environment to learn about our Friends’ part in Nashville and the surrounding areas. Simulations will be a big part of this; creating realistic and controlled opportunities to work out the kinks, then testing those methods out in our neighborhood!

I loved each and every student that walked or wheeled through my classroom doors; but that’s just what they were: students. The limitations of the public education system prevented my relationships with my students to flourish to what I have now within this community—friendships.

I have gained an amazing new set of Friends who laugh with me, trust me, learn from me, and teach me on a daily basis. While my path to Friends Life Community may have been wrought with twists and turns, I’m so glad I had the privilege to take the journey.

This community is capable of extraordinary things, and I’m honored to be a part of it.