Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jessica, the Kona Queen

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.

It’s a hot, sweaty day. You long for something cool and tasty -- a few minutes of bliss for your mouth. Then, you hear it.  In fact, you hear it well before you see it. And your mouth waters, and you long for it.  You reach into your pocket, dig out some cash, and flag the truck down.  It’s shaved ice time!

Then again, if your ice cream truck looks and sounds like may find refreshment in your own freezer instead.

Kona Ice is a locally created shaved ice company which is growing by leaps and bounds all across the country. While the bright and clean truck with a penguin donning a Hawaiian shirt and playing Caribbean tunes is advertising in itself, Jessica Ross has been busily working behind a camera and computer for three years to help tell the Kona story.

Jessica was in my sixth grade class in the previous millennium (1998-1999). As I try to type this paragraph, I’m struggling to remember details about Jessica the sixth grader. Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but let’s face it.  We all do.  Jessica’s class was one of my absolute favorites of all time. We had tons of fun while learning a lot. I do remember Jess as a lover of all things basketball. We also had another Jessica R. in that class, which caused some confusion issues along the way.  

The Ross Family is a one of those families that we have come to love over the years.  I also taught Jessica’s younger sister Catherine, and worked alongside her dad for a number of years. And… Jess is currently 6 places ahead of me in our fantasy football team. When we adopted our daughter from South Korea, the Ross Family insisted on taking us out to dinner to get to know our new bundle of joy.  That’s one of the joys of teaching in a small private school for years.  You get to know families and make them part of yours.  (Disclaimer: I’m not sure of the last time I actually laid eyes on a Ross. That’s one of the yucky things about quitting a small private school and teaching at another.  You miss out on seeing old friends.)

Jessica graduated from high school with the goal of learning videography and creating movie trailers.  Unfortunately for her, the recession hit about the time she graduated from college making job hunting difficult.  Either she found a job somewhat related to her field only to be laid off or found a job unrelated to her field that paid the bills.  Regardless, she was still looking for just the right thing.

One day in church, she happened to bump into the Founder and CEO of Kona who asked her to do some freelance work.  Later it turned into a full-time job offer, and Jessica was in her niche.  She is now the Director of Media with a company that was recently named #1 New Franchise in Entrepreneur Magazine with two other media specialists working for her.

While I knew about Jessica’s love of videography, I remember the first time I discovered her video work online.  The video below is of Belle Histoire, a local band which -- at the time -- featured two of my former students. Jane is the singer and Aaron is playing guitar. Jess filmed and edited the video, and I just thought it was so cool having three of my former students’ work online like this.

Nightmares | Belle Histoire from Jessica Ross/Sep 8th Productions on Vimeo.

Along the way, I bumped into a few other cool videos.  I really enjoyed this one, though I only met the bride-to-be once… at Jess’ graduation party, no less.

Save The Date: Bryan & Fran from Jessica Ross/Sep 8th Productions on Vimeo.

And here is my daughter’s favorite.  She frequently will ask to see “the ice cream video.”

Jessica, who also puts her technology skills to use at her church volunteering on their social media team, once dreamed of releasing a movie on the silver screen.  It’s funny though as kids grow into adults, sometimes goals change.  For Jess, that goal has mellowed and she’d love to raise a family. She didn’t say this, but I wonder if some of this stems from reflecting back on her own upbringing.  Raised in a family that loves her dearly, always deeply involved in church, and attending a school that at times is more like family can instill values in you that you want to pass along to little ones.  

She wanted me to put this paragraph in the post.  While it’s addressed to teachers from my former school, hopefully the same can be said for how you teach your students.
I would like to make a statement to all teachers, if you’re okay with that. I was really excited when I received this e-mail from you because I’ve always felt like I’ve never been given the opportunity to truly thank ALL of the teachers I’ve had through the years. I was never more appreciative of Calvary than after I had graduated. I was never more aware of the intentions of my teachers at Calvary than after I was gone. I wish I had the foresight and knowledge to have truly appreciated my teachers while I was there, but such is youth. Every teacher I had cared about my brain, my soul, and my heart. Not many students can say that about their education. I knew that the staff and faculty at Calvary truly cared about me as a person and as a student and I cherish the time I spent under their teaching. I’m proud to say I graduated from Calvary because of each and every one of you. I could not have asked for a better foundation on which to stand to start adulthood. Thank you for investing in me. Thank you for caring. Thank you for teaching me – not only about academics, but also about life. Thank you for viewing this as a ministry and not just a job. Your sacrifice does not go unnoticed and your influence is far greater than you could possibly imagine or will probably ever know. So, thank you.

Jessica remembers very little about the academics in my class, which is OK with me.  My grandmother died early that school year.  I found out during my lunch break and was devastated.  I had to make it through the afternoon and still do my job well. Then it was a flight home to Pennsylvania for the funeral.  Later that year, Jessica’s grandfather died.  I still remember the phone call from her dad.  Jessica tells me that by watching me deal with my grandmother’s death, she didn’t feel alone.  “I think I was struck by how transparent you were with us. You’ve had numerous students talk about you apologizing to the class, but I’ll be honest, I don’t remember that story. I do remember you being genuine with us and like I said, transparent – in a good way, of course. But I never doubted you were being real with us, and I do remember appreciating that. “  

The fact that Jess makes videos of kids eating shaved ice is not a big deal to me.  What is cool is that she has been unleashed to use her creative skills and technology talents to tell a story bigger than sugar-induced shaved ice. She has taken a music truck and helped to market it into an entrepreneurial phenomenon.  

I conceived this blog series while sitting in church.  We were in the middle of a series of messages about building into people. At the time, Jess was planning a trip around a good chunk of the country, videoing various Kona Ice franchises.  Kona gives away scads of money to charities, and the goal was to retell these great stories. And in the process of creating fun videos and helping to sell shaved ice, Jess is also helping to give back to communities across the country.  Below is the video they created to show how Kona Flavors their World.

So, the next time you see a Kona Ice video, know that there were teachers who had a part in the really cool young lady who created that video.

By the way, you can view more of Jess’ videos at her Vimeo page and the Kona Ice YouTube Channel.

Pictures of Modern Day Jess:

Pictures of Yesteryear Jess:

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