A Life-Changing Experience

As an attendee of the 2010 Missouri Scholars Academy (MSA), Jordan Henson was encouraged to write a poem and perform it during an evening poetry slam. Henson’s poem was so moving that the residential assistants leading the activity asked Henson to perform the piece during the next day’s Big Group, which is attended by all 330 scholars plus the faculty.

It was a moment that changed Henson’s life.

“After sharing my poem with the entire group, I received a standing ovation,” Henson said. “That moment was huge. It was one of the first times in my life that I felt validated.”

Growing up in Lawson, Mo., a town of approximately 2,500 people, Henson said that he struggled to find a fit in his public school environment. His experience with MSA gave him a fresh start.

“I didn’t realize how different I was from my peers growing up,” Henson said. “With MSA, I had a complete reset. There was no baggage. I was just able to be me.”

In just three short weeks, Henson said he not only grew academically, but he was also able to connect with fellow scholars from all walks of life.

Jordan Henson teaches a creative writing major course and a history of jazz minor class with MSA. He also leads several afternoon activities, such as a Magic the Gathering strategy session.

“My roommate was from St. Louis, and it was really interesting to talk to him about our different experiences growing up in a rural area versus an urban one,” Henson said. “There were also so many amazing speakers who offered incredible perspectives. It was very impactful to see that diversity, and I’m thankful that MSA really helped expand my world.”

It was during MSA that Henson realized he wanted to be a teacher, too. Henson became familiar with the University of Missouri campus during his time at the Academy and chose to study secondary education (language arts) at Mizzou. He also minored in religious studies and earned the multicultural certificate.

“As I thought about careers, I kept coming back to the teachers who made my experience at MSA so special,” Henson said. “I thought it would be rewarding to have that type of impact in the lives of students.”

Being in Columbia also allowed Henson to stay in touch with MSA. He served as a residential assistant for three years while studying at Mizzou.

“I had a network in place at MU, which was really helpful as I began college,” Henson said. “I was part of Marching Mizzou, too, and my roommates throughout my four years were friends from MSA or Marching Mizzou – or both.”

After earning his degree from MU, Henson became a full-time English teacher at Truman High School in Independence, Mo. He was a MU Teaching Fellow during that first year. A one-year graduate program that allows first-time teachers the opportunity to complete a master’s degree while gaining teaching experience under the guidance of a full-time mentor, MU Teaching Fellows earn a Master of Education in learning, teaching and curriculum upon competition of the program.

The Missouri Scholars Academy holds a special place for Henson, so much so that he has a tattoo of the MSA logo.

Henson has spent the past six years at Grain Valley High School as an English teacher. He was a coach of the speech and debate team, as well as the scholars’ bowl squad, too. Henson will move to North Kansas City High School this fall, where he will once again teach English and coach scholars’ bowl.

While Henson has been proud of his teaching journey, he also wanted to serve in a classroom role with MSA. He joined the Academy’s faculty in 2016 and has been involved ever since.

“I wanted to be in the classroom – and they haven’t been able to keep me out,” Henson said.

Henson teaches a creative writing major course and a history of jazz minor class with MSA. He also leads several afternoon activities, such as a Magic the Gathering strategy session.

“I love allowing each student to master the tools of their own voice through writing,” Henson said. “It’s really special to see those voices grow and become stronger throughout our time together.”

Seeing growth from each scholar is Henson’s favorite part of MSA. Those interactions bring Henson back each June.

“It’s amazing to come back every year and be around some of the best students from across the state,” Henson said. “So many of us come back year after year, which is a testament to how great this program is and what it can do. It truly can change lives. I’m living proof of that.”