Her last students will graduate Friday.
Longtime Southwest Elementary School second-grade teacher Jennifer Longworth and her husband, John “Dion” Longworth died in the Nov. 10, 2012 explosion in the Richmond Hill neighborhood on the southside of Indianapolis. The Longworths were the neighbors of Monserrate Shirley, who along with her boyfriend Mark Leonard, were convicted of blowing up their house for insurance money.
After a period of mourning, leaders from the Southwest Elementary School parent teacher organization decided to establish the Jennifer and Dion Longworth Memorial Award.
Since 2013, school leaders have given the award to one student each year, with a preference for students who had Longworth as a teacher. Since this is the final year Greenwood Community High School’s graduating class will have students who had Longworth as a teacher, the Southwest Elementary School PTO decided to award five students with $1,000 scholarships.
Those students are Nathan Kremer, Lily Hommell, Brenda Gonzalez, Michael Keller and Blake Reynolds, all of whom had Longworth as their second-grade teacher during the fall semester she passed away.
The five students joined previous scholarship recipients, Principal Beth Henry, PTO president Beth Boyce and hundreds of Southwest Elementary School students in congratulating the newest recipients during a ceremony Monday in the school’s gymnasium.
Kremer, who will study biology at Indiana University before pursuing a physician’s assistant program, remembers finding out his second-grade teacher wouldn’t be returning to class.
“She always welcomed her students. Every morning, she would ask them how their morning or day was. She cared about her students more than as a teacher, she wanted to see them succeed further down the line than second grade,” Kremer said. “I remember walking into class with the adults and kids upset. It’s nothing I want to experience again.”
Hommell will use the scholarship to help her fund studies in sports marketing and management at Florida Gulf Coast University.
“Being so young, I don’t remember much about her class, but I remember her brightening the room when she walked in,” Hommell said. “She was a happy person and she made learning fun.”
After Longworth died, the community came together, naming not just the scholarship, but the school’s media center for her.
“It was a really hard time when we found out what happened. It was devastating. You don’t want to go through a loss like that. But as a class and community, we came together,” Hommell said. “We received stuff that was hers that she was making for us, stuffed animals and crocheted scarves, along with stuff from her family.”
The impact of the scholarship and Longworth’s teaching is seen in previous recipients. Bailey Borges-Hardesty, a 2017 scholarship recipient, is now a second-grade teacher at Pleasant Crossing Elementary School.
“After receiving the scholarship, I felt the responsibility to carry on her legacy as a teacher,” Borges-Hardesty said. “The scholarship pushed me to continue my education through college, made me driven to become a teacher myself and achieve a goal she would be proud of.”
Henry knows the impact Longworth had as an educator and as a parent, she said.
“As a parent, I appreciated her being able to push my own kid to become a better person and a better student,” Henry said. “(Scholarship) recipients were all strong, focused individuals who were able to be successful in their lives. I just hope this award helps the recipients who got it this year pay for their tuition or whatever it is they need help with.”
Borges-Hardesty said she hopes the scholarship will continue to carry Longworth’s legacy into the future.
“I hope people remember her love for the students, her love for learning and her dedication to the job. The community here at Southwest still carries on her legacy and remembers her classroom values and continues it year after year,” Borges-Hardesty said. “She had love for the kids, love for the Colts. She always talked about kindness toward each other and how important learning is.”
The Southwest community’s appreciation of Longworth was made clear to her father, Don Buxton, on Monday, when he watched the scholarship announcement and a nine-minute video about his daughter and about the journeys of previous scholarship recipients.
“I wasn’t expecting the video, I teared up quite a bit. All the recipients are great, sharp children and sharp adults. It means so much that it will always be in her and my son-in-law’s name, it’s just great. She loved teaching, she loved every minute of it,” Buxton said.
“She had a really warm spot for the kids. From what I heard today, it seems they appreciate what the award is and it seems they have the attitude my daughter had: to be progressive in their work, accomplish things in life and give back.”