Copeland, Hochmeister awarded Lilly Fellowship grant 

By John Rohlf

The Message assistant editor

A pair of teachers at St. John the Baptist School in Newburgh are both earning the opportunity to travel through a renewal program aimed to support education professionals throughout the state. 

Jennifer Copeland and Jenna Hochmeister were both awarded the 2024 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant. They were two of the three teachers in the diocese to be awarded the grant. Kelly Schaefer at Holy Trinity School in Jasper was also awarded the grant. 

Jennifer Copeland

A kindergarten teacher at St. John the Baptist, Copeland earned the grant in her second application. She also applied for the grant last school year.

She plans to experience physical and mental renewal by helping animals, connecting with nature and exploring the rainforest in Costa Rica. She stressed it is a blessing to be able to take a trip like this through the grant. 

“It’s definitely unique,” Copeland said. “And it’s definitely a blessing that we are even able to have an opportunity.”

Hochmeister will travel across the country to nurture her lifelong passion for photography and storytelling. She will capture various landscapes and plans to infuse visual storytelling into the classroom. 

Jenna Hochmeister

She said photography has always been something she wanted to get into as a hobby. She stressed her children are now at an age where she believes she can devote time to her hobby. 

“In my proposal, I had written that I’m going to take some classes and then go west to Montana, spend some time in the Glacier National Park,” Hochmeister said. “Spend a few days in another town in Montana. And the extension piece of that brings me back home to some closer places that all have good landscape photography. So it’s spread out over the course of about 16 months from start to finish.” 

Both teachers hope to bring their experience back to the classroom to benefit their students. Hochmeister, who is a High Ability Language Arts and Math teacher at St. John the Baptist, plans to not only photograph her journey but also write about it. 

She said this experience is something she can bring back to her Language Arts classes in the future. 

“As a Language Arts teacher, I can bring that piece back and talk to my kids about photographic memoirs and possibly have them try to do their own on some smaller scale of memories from their childhood or a special place to them,” Hochmeister said. 

Copeland hopes the benefits of nature and animals can go along with “some kind of personal healing” and help her incorporate that into her classroom. She also believes a class she plans to take on Eco-Therapy will benefit both her and her future classes. 

“I’m going to be taking a class on Eco-Therapy as well and trying to incorporate that into my daily life and help with the students, help them be able to do that as well as the staff,” Copeland said. 

Copeland said it is a blessing to be able to work at St. John the Baptist, noting the faith environment at St. John and all of the Catholic schools in the diocese. She said they are able to incorporate religion and pray daily. 

She stressed it is a blessing to be in a Catholic school and be able to incorporate those lessons. 

“I had always been raised as a Catholic,” Copeland said. “I did not go to Catholic school but I have completed all of my sacraments outside of the public school. And so I was really interested in getting that faith base so that I could teach the students what I had learned and incorporate God into our daily lessons.”

Hochmeister, who is originally from Jasper, has taught at St. John the Baptist since 2016. She said her focus as a teacher is on relationships and connections with her students. There is something unique about the different age groups and grade levels she has taught in her career. 

“Even my little kindergarteners, I’m laughing and having fun with them on a daily basis,” Hochmeister said. “And all the way up to teenage eighth graders. So it’s about relationships, connections and just trying to give them an experience that is a little extraordinary, I guess? Outside of the norm.”