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Face of the Week: Jade Dawkins of Perry Hall High School

Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. "Face of the Week" introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.

Face of the Week: Jade Dawkins of Perry Hall High School

“Are you ready?” the BCPS staffer asked Jade Dawkins on the evening of April 19. Around them, hundreds of BCPS teachers, students, parents, principals, and administrators filed into the cavernous auditorium at Loch Raven High School, there to celebrate the Board of Education’s annual Spring Recognition and Merit and Ethics Awards Ceremony.   

Jade, a 17-year-old senior from Perry Hall High School, was the event’s emcee. When she had casually volunteered for the task several weeks earlier, she didn’t know it would involve reading a 53-page script she’d seen only a day or two earlier, steering more than 150 award winners through the spotlight, and reading and following cues from a BCPS-TV camera crew at the back of the auditorium – and doing it all in less than 90 minutes.

“I’m ready,” Jade told the staffer. “By the way, did you know I’ve never done any public speaking before?”

Such circumstances might rattle even an experienced performer, but not Jade. When the auditorium’s lights dimmed, she finished up a quick last scan of her script, her face a study in serious concentration. But as she stepped to the podium and into the spotlight, she beamed. “Good evening. . . ,” she began, and she was off.  All pro.

Shannon Strazzire wasn’t surprised. As Jade’s multimedia teacher at Perry Hall, she works with Jade and a select class of students who produce and broadcast the school’s daily announcements for the “Perry Hall News Network.”  It’s a highlight of the school day for Jade, who hopes to become a broadcast journalist.

“Jade impressed me the first time I met her. She has a natural grace and poise that is uncommon for a high school student,” said Strazzire, who also was a Baltimore County Teacher of the Year finalist this year. (A week after the Board Recognition event, Jade introduced Strazzire to another audience at the Teacher of the Year ceremony.)

“She’s always willing to take on any assignment, a leader among her peers, and her smile is contagious as is her work ethic,” Strazzire said. “Her passion for journalism – specifically broadcast news – is evident in her commitment to our broadcast and her willingness to take risks.”

Learning life lessons

Jade’s fearlessness seems both inborn and hard-won. The youngest of five children of Lori and Joel Dawkins, she knew early on growing up in White Marsh that broadcasting held a special allure. “When I was little, I’d do fake broadcasts in my room. It just looked like fun,” she says.

When she was five, two events that year loomed as formative. On the plus side, she overcame her early tendency towards shyness by becoming a cheerleader for local rec football leagues, an activity she enjoyed until high school, when she joined the Gators’ cheerleading squad at Perry Hall. She had no lessons, but her teams competed, and she learned how much fun it was to perform in front of an audience. And in high school, her cheer team took home five county championships.

But the year also brought hardship. The family was challenged that year as well when a neighbor’s discarded cigarette ignited a pile of dry leaves nearby. The fire spread quickly to Jade’s home, climbed a back wall, and burned the house to the ground.

“I learned that everything can be okay one moment and then be gone in the blink of an eye,” she says.

The family had known tragedy before; Jade’s cousin was NASA astronaut and physicist Ron McNair, who lost his life during the Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

But after the fire, her “loud and outgoing” family began rebuilding on the property and soon had recovered. Throughout, Jade’s school, Joppa View Elementary, provided stability and support.

Aside from some acting and dancing at her church, Jade didn’t receive any formal training as a performer until her junior year at Perry Hall. As a sophomore, she signed up for the newly reinstated multimedia class, and soon was helping produce the morning announcements. “What I learned was that when you mess up, just smile and keep going,” Jade says. “It’s never as bad as you think it is.”

Strazzire also saw promise and recommended Jade for an internship with BCPS-TV, which each year takes as interns several BCPS students interested in broadcast journalism. During her internship, Jade has co-hosted the station’s “Entertainment Boulevard” show, learned to edit videos, and performed in several commercials produced by the station.    

The experience, Jade says, has been invaluable. “I didn’t know that reporters have to do their own editing and packaging. It’s not as easy as it looks,” she says. But there have been bigger lessons, too: “It’s all about teamwork there and in life, I think. You’re never doing anything by yourself, and you learn that you never know everything that you think you know.”

Someday a star

In August, Jade will take her confidence and wisdom to West Virginia University, there to study broadcast journalism at “one of the best broadcasting facilities in the nation.” Characteristically, she’s not letting her nerves rattle her progress. “I’ve realized that you’re usually better than you think you are,” says Jade, who calls herself “a pretty basic person.”

“Even when you’re nervous, nothing is so bad that you can’t at least try. You just do it, and see what doors open and what opportunities there are,” she says.

It was that attitude that led to her volunteering for emcee duties last month for the Board Recognition program, as well as introducing Strazzire at the Teacher of the Year program. She says she enjoyed both; the Board of Education event was even “fun – I’m ready to do it again!”

Her ideal job would be as an anchor for “Entertainment Tonight” or some other celebrity news show. Her role model is Oprah Winfrey. And she still keeps the words of her grandmother close to her heart: “She would always say I’m going to be a movie star.”

But that’s the future; for now, her eyes are on WVU and perhaps starting at a local news affiliate. Perhaps she can get a head start on her goals while still in college; she hears there are opportunities for internships in Los Angeles.

“It’s a start,” Jade says of her immediate plans. “I feel like I’m as ready as I can be.”

Do you know of a special person who would be a good candidate for the BCPS “Face of the Week”? Let us know! Send their name, contact information, and what makes them special to  

More photos of Jade can be found on the BCPS Flickr site.

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