Jeff Kelly Lowenstein. Google the name. Ten pages worth of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein later, Google’s still rolling out his name. Impressive.
Let’s see. Award winning reporter for the Chicago Reporter; currently Database and Investigative Editor for the Chicago Tribune’s Spanish language newspaper Hoy (and is becoming fluent in Spanish while he’s at it); the 2007 Racial Justice Fellow at the Institute of Justice and Journalism at USC’s Annnenberg School of Communication; one of a handful of journalists from around the world to be selected in the Climate Change Media Partnership’s first Fellowship Program to send journalists to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban (COP17) in November 2011; contributor to the Huffington Post; awarded a Dennis Hunt Fellowship in 2011; currently president of the Dart Society…I could go on. Run that Google search and see for yourself.
I’ve known him since he was nine years old. And I'm mighty proud of him.
“I want Mr. Tamburello for my fourth grade teacher,” he remembers telling his mom in 1974. Alice Lowenstein was on the board of the Parent Teacher Organization. Jeff was placed in 4T. He was one of the bright spots in a really interesting bunch of kids in my 1974-75 class at the John Pierce School in Brookline, MA.
Jeff (R) interviewing a classmate on the first day of school in 1974
There must be a gene that creates the ability to connect the dots that link human relationships. Jeff is a natural. He made friends with every kid in the class. His style was subtle and steady. Kids respected him, an act that mirrored what they experienced from him. His voice is deeper now but his style hasn’t changed a jot.
He’d stop by to visit me after school from grade 5 through his years at Brookline High School, then during vacations when he returned to the east coast from Stanford (graduated Summa Cum Laude). When Jeff’s mom and dad were involved in a terrible automobile accident after he graduated, his mother nearly died. Fate drew him back to Brookline. Jeff and his brothers Jon and Michael shared home care for their mother’s arduous recovery and rehabilitation. It was a long road. Jeff needed some structure and a sense of familiar territory to hold his days and nights together. He walked over to the Pierce School.
“We are family,” was principal Alvin Fortune’s motto. A big man with a bigger heart, he offered Jeff a job, knowing that Jeff was not only a caretaker for his mother, but needed some TLC himself. Our teaching community embraced him.
After a stint of running our recess program and the less exciting task of shelving books for our two motherly librarians who fed him snacks every day, Jeff asked if he could sit in on my classes, maybe help teach for a couple of hours a day. The smartest thing I ever did was to say yes. The next two years were the most exciting of my 34 year career.
That summa cum laude from Stanford was not just an impressive certificate to hang on the wall. Jeff authored terrific American History lessons, engineered activities that involved every level of student. Kids loved his style. They knew he was present, a huge gift, and that his desire to teach was balanced by his desire to know who they were and what they needed to succeed. He learned to manage a class of ten year olds. Watching him teach was fun.
Jeff added a program to my series of “Life Talks,” which he called “The You Can Do Anything Program” in which he invited artists, musicians, writers – all friends of his – to talk about the paths that led them to their callings.
Talking with him after class about strategies for content delivery, class management, which kids looked involved and which ones needed help, where the lesson would lead tomorrow… those sessions were a gift. They gave me insight into the depth of experience I hadn’t realized I’d absorbed in my first 18 years of teaching. And I learned a lot by watching Jeff work a room with an inclusive style that made every kid feel like he or she was in the game.
Jeff was an astute observer. I asked him to write anecdotal comments about each student and used them when Jeff sat in with me when we met with parents for conferences about their child twice a year. Jeff owns a memory that rivals a purse seine trawler for its capacity to collect (and retain) data. When he spoke about their kids, he included specific examples for everything he wrote.
Twenty-four looks pretty old when you’re nine. My students would examine photos pinned to my bulletin board of Jeff as a fourth grader in 4T, look at him as a grown man, then try to figure out how ancient I must be to have been his teacher in the olden days. It was a gas.
Over the past forty years I’ve known Jeff as a student, mentor, fellow teacher, and, for the past twenty-five years or so, as a friend. I’ve witnessed him embrace challenges through his first career as a middle school teacher and through his evolutions as a reporter. He brings an incandescent energy to the cause of social justice that inspires his colleagues. Honest to goodness, I’ve seen him operate with this vision since he was nine years old.
I call Jeff Kelly Lowenstein my “Walking Talking Lifetime Achievement Award.”
On May 17, I’m heading to New York City to the second annual fund raiser/auction for the Dart Society, an organization of journalists that works to tell stories about trauma and violence with sensitivity and compassion, and that also works to help journalists deal with the impact of doing that work. Jeff Kelly Lowenstein is president of the organization. A perfect match.
Jeff and pt through the years
B/W classroom photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.