Sherry Jones: Alumni Success Story
An educator instrumental in helping students pursue their dreams.
B.M., B.P.S. ’08
At Pasta House after Sunday church, Sherry Jones’ family surrounds her, filling the expanded table. Jones wouldn’t change it. Lunch after church is a cherished tradition for her and her expansive family of biological and school children.
While some students call her Ms. Jones, many students, teachers and administrators prefer to call Sherry Jones “Mama Jones.” For many of her students, the music teacher at Jennings Junior High School is the only motherly figure in their lives.
“Many of these students have no parental support — they raise themselves,” said Jones. “I try to fill in the gap.”
Filling in the gap is both practical, emotional and spiritual. Jones will provide clothing, food and support to any student who needs help. She’ll take students to her church, then feed and spend time with the students to keep them away from a life on the street.
Life hasn’t been an easy, straight road for Jones either. She left her studies before completing her undergraduate degree to support her husband with his ministry and dreams. After seeing a flyer posted at church, Jones knew it was time to continue her dreams and signed up for classes at Missouri Baptist University.
“I knew since kindergarten that I was called to be a music teacher,” said Jones. “I taught my dolls and played as the church musician. God sent me to teach.”
Earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at MBU was a challenge, but her faith gave her strength. She worked as an administrator, taught classes at a local Catholic parish school, continued her music ministry, and cared for her family while completing coursework at MBU.
When Jones walked onto campus for her first night class, she was worried that the age-gap between her and her classmates would be difficult. But instead, it was a strength as she formed her MBU family.
“I would just sit down with them and talk, and I enjoyed my time with them,” said Jones. Her classmates too called her mama. She took them into her home for Thanksgiving or chastised them for procrastinating homework.
Her professors were also a source of strength.
Dr. Cathy Benton was her piano teacher, and they clicked. “Dr. Benton and I would take time to pray together and talk about family,” said Jones. “My professors were why I completed my degree. They supported me when my husband was dying from renal failure and I had to leave in the middle of class. There were times that I told them I couldn’t do it. They told me that quitting wasn’t an option. I was going to finish, and they would do whatever it takes to get me there.”
“She was worried that the age-gap between her and her classmates would be difficult. But instead, it was a strength as she formed her MBU family.”
When Jones’ husband passed away, her professors and students attended the visitation and would check in with Jones to see how they could help her. That strength supported Jones, helping her finish a master’s degree in 2010 after earning her bachelor’s degree in 2008.
Like her professors were to her, Jones wants to be a source of strength and hope for her students. She is the school’s first music teacher to stay, and her students are now a part of her family.
For this year’s graduating eighth-graders of Jennings’ College Prep and Career Academy, Jones is instrumental in their process of pursuing their dreams. These young students are in accelerated classes so they can graduate from high school with an associates degree. For them, this is their chance to pursue their ambition of becoming a cardiologist, pediatrician, attorney and musician, Jones said.
In their first year, these students didn’t have anywhere to go one period of their schedule. Jones decided to do more than supervise a study hall — she exposed them to the world of music and taught them piano. Two and a half years later, these students are now musicians, playing challenging songs such as “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
Jones gives her students more than musical chops. She helps them discover the strength to persist despite adversity and serves as a supportive ally.
Among these students is eighth-grader Taviah Crume.
“Mama Jones is like family,” she said. “When I have problems, I always go to her, and she helps me work it out. She takes us places like the theatre and church, just like a real mom.”
A fellow eighth-grader, Devin Elkins, agrees. “I don’t want to leave her class,” she said. “As of now, our high school classes won’t allow for any electives — including piano. She’s fighting for a way to teach us next year.”
Nina Ely aspires to become a cardiologist, and piano is playing a vital role in helping her achieve her dreams.
“Piano helps me express myself and focus on my studies,” said Ely. “Ms. Jones introduced me to this love. When I go to college, I plan on using piano as a way to help to do well in my studies.”
When asked how the students have the strength to persevere in adversity, the answers are in unison and automatic: “It’s Mama Jones.”
Illustration by Dennis Scanio for MBU Magazine | Summer 2017