Rock Island students past and present celebrating junior high drama club director

Published: May. 26, 2023 at 4:42 PM CDT|Updated: May. 26, 2023 at 5:21 PM CDT
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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - Jennifer Hoeper is the Drama Club Director at Washington and Edison Jr. High. Current and former students are surprising her this weekend, to celebrate her 10 year anniversary as director of the club.

“Like looking through it, I’m like ‘oh my god, it’s been ten years?!’”

Jennifer Hoeper has been the after-school drama club director at Washington Jr. High in Rock Island for the last decade.

It is part of the school district’s “Lights on for Learning” grant. It all started when her oldest daughter was a student.

“The teacher at the time needed a volunteer to help monitor students at night. So i came in, and we got through that may show and then in the fall I came over and took over the first hour, and she took the second hours, and then I took over in January,” said Hoeper.

Teaching drama to hundreds of students over the years, Hoeper has become known to many as “Mama Jen,” and it all started with one student, 10 years ago. “He said, I said, ‘You can call me Mrs. Jen, Mrs. H,’ and he goes ‘How ‘bout mama Jen?’ and it stuck. No matter how many times I try and go away from it, it always comes back,” said Hoeper.

Mama Jen’s daughter, Gabby, doesn’t seem to mind sharing that title.

After graduating from Rocky, Gabby came back to her middle school to support her mother’s program.

“To be able to come back and see her making such a difference for these kids. And just being the mom to them that I’ve had my entire life. And some of them aren’t fortunately to have. She is so supportive, and anything they need she is right there to help out,” said Gabby Hoeper.

What keeps Mrs. Hoeper coming back, year after year?

“The kids, every single year. A lot of them need to be built up and that’s much job, to build them up and get them more, a higher self-esteem,” said Hoeper.

Building them up, and making a difference.

“I need them to know, and they have learned from me, they are important to somebody. And for me, if I can make a difference in one kid’s life, that’s what I’m gonna do. I want to. Like, they are all so very important to me, wow, it means a lot.”

This weekend’s production of “How the Other Half dies” will mark her 10 year anniversary, and with the help of her daughter and other former students, it will be a weekend to remember.

“We wanted to make sure that we made it a really special memory for her.

We have a lot of surprises coming tonight and tomorrow night for the show that I’m not going to speak about because she’s within ear shot,” said Hoeper.

Jennifer Hoeper’s productions of “How the Other Half Dies” will be performed May 26 and May 27 at 7 p.m. in the gym at Washington Jr. High in Rock Island. Admission is free.