In the week of Sept. 16, Joaquin Miller Middle School (MMS) students packed into Room 33 to craft flower hair clips, which they would wear in the coming days to remember the life of beloved art and photography teacher Jennifer Gross, who passed away on Sept. 15.
Gross enjoyed restoring old cars and photography, and her fashion style often incorporated vintage elements to create a style that was uniquely hers.
“When I think of Ms. Gross, I immediately think of her beautiful smile and how put together she always was,” said MMS math and science teacher Lise Stull. “Her makeup was perfectly applied, and she got creative with her hair styles too, often adding bright colors and flowers. She had a great sense of style!”
Gross was known and loved for many things, one of which was her kindness. Gross’s class had a warm, welcoming atmosphere, with student artwork plastered on the walls.
“You could always feel like you could be herself around her and she would welcome you regardless of who you were,” MMS choir teacher Anthony Arnold said. “I think anyone who had her was lucky to have had her as a teacher.”
To students, the classroom was more than its four walls: it was a safe space to explore their creative talents. Gross’s class served as a launching pad for greater talents, a place to encourage exploration and nurture and individual voice in photography and art.
“I’ve never met anyone more encouraging of my art journey,” senior Janvi Ramchandra said. “Being an amateur artist in middle school, I made comics everyday and would show them to Mrs. Gross. Because she would sit down and laugh with me about the jokes I attempted to put in my comics back then, I gained the courage to pursue art in high school and beyond. Mrs. Gross encouraged me to develop my art style as well as to step outside my comfort zone, not only in the art field, but as a maturing human being.”
“She was about first, loving yourself; you can’t love yourself without knowing who you are, believing in what you can do and being passionate about what you were created to do,” Arnold said. “It wasn’t so much about the grade as much as it was about exploring your loves and passions, and exploring them to their ultimate degree. You can see that in how she raised her son; she wanted him first and foremost to know that he was loved.”
Gross genuinely cared for each and every one of her students. To her, students’ emotional wellbeing was as important, if not more, than her students’ academic achievement.
“She was one of very few teachers who actually gave off the impression that they genuinely cared for us,” sophomore Pranay Mamileti said. “Every day, she could tell if somebody in the class was down about or going through something, and she was always down to help.”
While the MMS and Lynbrook community are known for high stress levels and intense academics, Gross’ first priority was not giving students’ perfect grades or test scores, but rather to instill a sense of confidence in them, both in and out of photography and art. The lessons Gross taught extended beyond the arts; she wanted students to take care of themselves and treat themselves with love and kindness.
“I remember she was telling us about how she thought skincare was important and how she liked taking care of her skin,” said sophomore Carolyn Li. “At the time, the only thing I did to my face was briefly rinsing it with water in the shower. It might seem really trivial, but I think it’s interesting that my photography teacher inspired me to start taking better care of myself and helped me create a part of my daily routine that I enjoy doing everyday.”
Her caring nature was enjoyed by her coworkers as well. Her loving nature and dedication to self-care and kindness inspired not just students, but fellow staff as well. “She saw all the beauty in the world and had such great balance in her life,” said MMS cooking and fashion teacher Ana Reed in a caption on her teacher Instagram account. “She taught me that it’s important to take time for yourself each day, keep up with your passions, not sweat the small stuff, enjoy what’s around you, date your husband, not let motherhood consume you and live life to the fullest.”
Gross was more than a teacher: she was a quirky friend, a loving mother and a valued colleague. All of Gross’ students, friends and family will remember her passion, love, courage, quirkiness and creativity. Within the MMS community, her spirit is forever captured in the mural she crafted on the wall adjacent to her former classroom; the inspiration and knowledge she endowed upon students as well as the life lessons she taught others.
“Mrs. Gross’ smile, passion, enthusiasm, quirkiness, witty sarcasm, and silly faces will no longer be a part of our daily lives,” Reed said.“We will now see and feel her around us in every brightly painted sunset, beautiful flower blossom, colorful falling autumn leaf and ray of sunshine peeking through branches.”
Gross has guided many souls and changed people for the better. For this, she will be dearly missed by all whose lives she touched.