Momma J: Where is She Now?

Jeanne+Jelnick%2C+a+retired+teacher+and+beloved+member+of+the+Portola+High+community%2C+reminisces+on+her+time+at+Portola+High+while+shifting+focus+to+writing+and+theatre.

Sidra Asif

Jeanne Jelnick, a retired teacher and beloved member of the Portola High community, reminisces on her time at Portola High while shifting focus to writing and theatre.

Jeanne Jelnick, affectionately known as “Momma J,” retired in July 2020 after teaching literature at Portola High since its inaugural year, as well as briefly leading the theatre department. While Jelnick no longer teaches on campus, she continues to develop the skills she taught inside of the classroom in her personal life.

In her free time, Jelnick currently tutors high school students in the evenings. In addition, she has also started work on multiple writing projects, the main one being a collection of plays based on the works of Shakespeare and classic literary authors such as Charles Dickens and the Brontë sisters.

“I’ve written all my life,” Jelnick said. “I’ve written poetry all my life. I’ve written plays all my life. I’ve written fiction all my life, short stories, so it didn’t just start, and now that I’m retired I have more time.”

Another way Jelnick has continued her literary career after retirement is through editing. Currently, she is working on a poetry collection written by an old classmate from graduate school, a nonfiction book about a Korean veteran who ends up homeless after fighting alongside Americans in the Korean War and her father’s autobiography which he wrote for his twelve grandchildren.

“There’s no one reason that I love writing,” Jelnick said. “There are many reasons. One, I love words. I love letters, and I love words. And I think writing empowers an individual to make good happen.”

I will never not be working with adolescents. I will never not because they are the best of humanity, and there’s so much potential and so much hope.”

— Jeanne Jelnick

According to Jelnick, her passion for forging lifelong bonds and her desire to positively shape students’ lives even in their most turbulent times was a major factor in her decision to teach high school students. 

“There’s this core thing about a teenage child that I love more than anything,” Jelnick said. “So I will never not be working with adolescents. I will never not because they are the best of humanity, and there’s so much potential and so much hope.”

When reflecting on her passion for literature and teaching, Jelnick reminisced on how Portola High impacted her career and outlook on life. 

“My experience with students in the last four years of my teaching was the best experience I had as a teacher,” Jelnick said. “I loved a lot of what I did all through the years… my relationship with students and my relationship with student curricula and student enterprise and student projects, student production. Oh, it was the best of my forty year career.”