Meet TFASC Alumna Dena Kennedy

Dena Kennedy
Teach For America South Carolina 2015
School Counselor, Philip Simmons High School

Dena Kennedy never imagined herself as a high school biology teacher in front of 30 restless teens.

“I always envisioned being a school counselor,” she remembered. “But I wouldn’t change my Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) classroom experience for anything in the world.”

As Kennedy completed her master’s degree in secondary school counseling at Wilmington University, she itched for adventure beyond Delaware, her lifelong home. She jumped at a chance for teacher certification, a steady paycheck, and new sights and sounds from a two-year commitment with TFASC at Manning High School in Manning, S.C.

From 2015 to 2017, Manning had only 4,000 citizens, but small-town life wasn’t new to Kennedy. Her rural home town in Delaware didn’t have many traffic lights either.

“The biggest difference in Manning was being called ‘ma’am,’” she laughed. “If you do that in the Northeast, people sometimes get offended.”

Kennedy admitted being “timid in the classroom” at first. Her TFASC advisor, Kristina Yates, nudged her toward assertiveness.

“Kristina’s advice? Just do something,” said Kennedy. “It might not be perfect, but try things. That push led me to confidence.”

Kennedy’s two TFASC teacher roommates, Tess Curry and Kaitlyn Anderson, became fast friends and supporters. “They made it easy to adapt,” she said. “And everyone in Manning was so friendly and accommodating. It didn’t take me long to feel I belonged.”

Kennedy, Curry, and Anderson grew so close, in fact, that Kennedy invited them to her wedding in Charleston in 2021. Kennedy also still picks up the phone, seven years after, to talk with Yates.

After her teaching placement by TFASC, Kennedy relocated to Charleston to continue teaching, then she settled into her dream job – school counselor – at Philip Simmons High School.

“My decision to join TFASC and go on this journey fundamentally changed my life,” said Kennedy.

“Without TFASC, I wouldn’t have taken a chance to learn and grow by moving eight hours from home. I wouldn’t have worked and made friends in Manning. If I hadn’t taught at Manning, I never would have moved to Charleston, and I never would have met my husband, Jeff, an engineer at Volvo.”

She added, “My TFASC placement has been the crux of all the good things in my life over the past seven years.”

Now a committed career educator, Kennedy has concerns about education in South Carolina.

“I worry that there’s not enough work being done at higher levels to keep our teachers in classrooms and to get new ones,” said Kennedy. “We all recognize how badly teachers are needed.”

She offers a personal testimonial on the difference even two years of classroom experience can make in a life.

“I tell my students that TFASC is a great opportunity to build on college credentials, even if you don’t major in education,” she said.

“And, even if you don’t make a career out of teaching, you will still walk around with unbeatable skills that you learned in the classroom. Teaching is life-changing, whatever else you might do.”

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