KONZ | Remembering Jenny Pruett and her passion for students
Jenny Pruett had a great sense of humor and had such a passion for teaching and her students. It's evident that Jenny's students were very much Jenny's "kids" -- she was always talking about how proud she was of them.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I first met Jenny Pruett nine years ago shortly after my arrival in Louisville to cover Jefferson County Public Schools.
I can't remember what brought me to Wilkerson Elementary that day and I don't think I did a story, but I remember her.
And over the past six years or so as I became more active on social media -- Twitter in particular -- and started building relationships with teachers and other school sources, Pruett was often one I would talk to.
She had a great sense of humor and had such a passion for teaching and her students. It's evident that Jenny's students were very much Jenny's "kids" -- she was always talking about how proud she was of them.
I noticed in the last few months she had been talking about starting physical therapy for back pain, but I didn't think anything of it. She messaged me last week to tell me about the walk-in at Wilkerson scheduled for this week. I thanked her.
Over the weekend, she became very sick. She was rushed to the hospital and doctors found two blood clots in her lungs.
By Monday morning, Pruett passed away. She was 37.
On Wednesday afternoon, I was driving around the south end of Louisville. I had been at Pleasure Ridge Park High and decided to stop by Wilkerson, which is only about three miles away. I really didn't have a plan, other than to drop by and pay my condolences to the school staff.
The front office was filled with flowers. I'm not sure if it's because of Pruett's death, or because it's Teacher Appreciation Week, but the flowers were beautiful.
I spend a lot of time in schools. As an education reporter, it's part of my job. It's the best part of my job.
There are so many great stories out there that teachers share with me.
They have no idea how inspired I get when I hear the stories about how they've bought their kids shoes or jackets when they arrived at school with worn out sneakers and no jackets. Or when they've used their own money to buy simple things like pencils and notebooks.
Pruett did all of these things -- but I had no idea how much she contributed to this community and her students until I met with three of her friends yesterday. For 30 minutes, Cheryl Barney, Kelly Boyd and Jan Brazely sat with me in an empty classroom and shared memories of Pruett with me.
Pruett started teaching at Wilkerson in 2001 -- the place she would end up spending her entire career.
"She would do so much for everyone else," said Barney. "Wilkerson has lost a big part of its heart and soul...it didn't matter what someone needed here, Jenny would do it. It didn't matter what it was, she would do it."
From planning potluck lunches for the staff and organizing retirement parties to running a weekly office lottery pool among some teacher friends and decorating bulletin boards, Jenny did it all.
For years, she took students on two-day camping trips to Camp Kentahten and then come back and put together memory books filled with pictures.
Boyd, a fellow fourth grade teacher, team taught with Jenny for many years. She, Jenny and another teacher, Joey Decker, were like the Three Amigos, Barney said.
And then they told me about Haredo Abdi.
Barney and Boyd told me about how Haredo arrived at Wilkerson as a kindergartner about 11 years ago. She and her family emigrated from Somalia.
"She was a darling little girl, but boy she was a spitfire," Barney said. "When she didn't want to do something, her foot was down. She had kind of a rough time in kindergarten, first and second grade. By the time she got to my class in third grade, we had realized that all she really needed was a lot of love. And she came along so well. Everyone loved Haredo, but it was Jenny who really connected with her."
Barney said around the time Haredo arrived in Jenny's fourth grade class, they had noticed that Haredo had started to limp.
"And then we noticed she was dragging her leg," Barney said. "Something just wasn't right. Jenny who battled and battled and did whatever it took after doctors would say nothing was wrong to finally get the ball rolling for a specialist to see her and take care of her. Sure enough, she had a tumor on her leg."
That year, Haredo had surgery on Oct. 23.
"Jenny orchestrated where we all took shifts to go to the hospital, we bought everything she might need -- pajamas, play things, gift cards, food for the family, she had two siblings at the time," Boyd said. "Whatever Haredo got, her siblings got."
As Haredo recovered, the other teachers stayed to help, but once she recovered, Barney says Jenny never stopped taking care of her and the two siblings she had bonded with during that time.
"She still, as recent as spring break, saw them," Barney said. "When it was their birthday, she made sure they had a birthday cake, they got to do something fun. She would take them to their favorite place to eat, she would take them to the movies. She would take them to the dollar store, each of them got $5 to spend on whatever they wanted."
Harado is now a junior at Fairdale High School. On Monday, Barney was one of two people who went to Fairdale to tell her the news.
"When she saw me in the hallway, her face lit up," Barney said. "We had visited her before, but this time she knew something was wrong. Her face began to quiver. She is absolutely heartbroken."
On Monday night, Haredo posted on Jenny's Facebook page:
Can't believe that you gone away so soon. I'm still upset and want to cry more about u passing away after all we been through and all the time we spend together for 7 years together and now you gone but I love you so much may your soul rest in peace. You in a better place now .
Pruett was a native of Louisville and graduated from Western High School in 1996. She earned her bachelor's degree from Western Kentucky University, where she was a founding member of the Omega Phi Alpha sorority. She obtained her master's degree from Indiana Wesleyan University and her additional certification from the University of the Cumberlands.
"She had a very close, small family," Boyd said. "It's her mom, her sister, Quen and Sarah -- that's it. There is not an aunt, an uncle, no cousins. And then she had us."
Barney said the school and staff are collecting funds to help support Pruett's two-year-old niece, Sarah.
"Her nephew just graduated from high school and so much of her life was giving to her nephew and now it's about helping her niece," Barney said. "We want to continue helping her."
According to her obituary, Pruett is survived by her mother Yvonne Pruett; sister Ann Howard; brother-in-law Sean Howard; niece Sarah Howard; and a nephew Quentin "Quen" Pruett.
Pruett's funeral is being held today, Thursday, May 5 at 2 p.m. at Evergreen Funeral Home with interment to follow in Evergreen Cemetery.
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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