Jennifer Dodson named LAE Hero of the Heart

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Courtesy photo (L-R) Charlie, Aaron, Jennifer and Tucker Dodson.

The mother of two students within the Los Alamitos Unified School District has been named the Los Al Elementary Hero of the Heart.

“She wants every student to have the best elementary school experience possible,” said Principal Gary Willems while announcing Jennifer Dodson as the school’s 2022 “Hero of the Heart.”

Willems announced Dodson during a recent LAUSD workshop and said, “she is, by far, the most deserving person of this award.”

“Normally, when you tell someone that they are receiving the ‘Hero of the Heart’ award, there is either excitement or [tears], like last year’s winner who began crying in the middle of the aisle at the supermarket,” said Willems.

“But when I told Jen she was the Hero of the Heart, she said, ‘please tell me I don’t have to make a speech,’” the principal said.

Dodson has a son Tucker at McAuliffe Middle and a daughter Charlie at LAE. During the five years he’s served as principal at LAE, Willems said Dodson has worked to increase parental donations each year and “has become LAE’s single biggest fund raiser.”

He said Dodson started the school’s new fundraiser, the Backyard Bash, and though no longer officially involved in the PTA or other school organizations, “she is still involved with every single event.”

“She has done all of this volunteer work for our students and never wanted anything in return,” the principal said.

Earlier this school year, LAE was named one of two elementary schools within the LAUSD to earn the prestigious U.S. Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon status.

“Anyone who knows me knows this [public speaking] is my biggest fear,” said Dodson.
Yet, Dodson paid tribute to “the army of people it takes to run those [fundraising] events successfully,” and she thanked Willems and Assistant Principal Rick Larson for selecting her for the award.

“Thank you for always saying ‘yes’ to my crazy ideas for events and assemblies,” she said, “including a Double Dare-themed assembly with a giant slip ‘n’ slime, [with] freezing cold water at 8 a.m,” said Dodson.

She thanked her kids, Tucker and Charlie, “who would wake up early to be at school by 5 a.m. to set up for events and assemblies. They would participate in that event sit through their entire school day and help clean up after school.”

“To my daughter Charlie, who grew up sitting under the tables at play meetings with snacks and coloring books so mom and all her friends could come up with more crazy ideas,” she said.

“And to my husband, who would help at all of these events and even build anything we asked him to for these events, including Bob the big orange box, which we also locked him up in dressed up as Captain Underpants for an hour and a half,” she recalled to the laughter of the audience.

Most of all, she thanked the dedication and talent of teachers in the system, especially those who helped educate her children.

“To all of Tucker and Charlie’s teachers throughout the years, thank you for letting me take over holidays, class parties, and art days some of my favorite memories are helping in all of your classes.”

With her voice breaking, Dodson said “lastly, my team, my mom or me, Brittany, Amanda, you guys are simply the best. Without you ladies, none of this would be possible. And you do make LAE the place.”

Board President Diana Hill thanked Dodson for her example to others.

“I just want to say thank you very much for all you’ve done and I know that as parents, it’s a great joy. But I also hope you realize what you are teaching your children and what you’re teaching other children that see you volunteering and giving from the bottom of your heart just to give,” said Hill.

“That is an amazing lesson for our children,” she said.

Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver said, “the hallmark of this district are the people and it’s like you just continue to make amazing things possible for our students when we talk about unlimited possibilities for students.”

“We could not accomplish this without the amazing partnership of our parents. And then I think about just something simple that Mr. Willems was sharing about the ‘spirit stick’ that you started at LAE and the ripple effect because that was something that Gary has shared with other principals across the district.”

“It’s really powerful, and thank you for who you are and for all that you shared with us,” said Pulver.

“Our kids are there to learn and become the best people they can be,” said board member Meg Cutuli, and she said, “without the community and parental support we could not do half the things we do.”

“So thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” said Cutuli.

“You did an outstanding job,” said board member Marlys Davidson. “For me, a true leader is someone who turns around and acknowledges everyone who did the work with them. You are an outstanding leader,” said Davidson.

Jennifer Dodson named LAE Hero of the Heart