Jailyn and Madison Baker are as different as pickles and plums. Sisters, they are 10 years apart and have different tastes in practically everything.
Born in Louisiana and Oklahoma, respectively, they came to Hampton Roads in 2004 as military dependents. Jailyn, who is older, had Hampton High School in her sights as early as elementary school despite living out of zone. The family moved to the Hampton High zone when she was in middle school, and she graduated in 2012. The top choice for Madison was Kechoughtan High School, where she finished in 2022.
Like their high school picks, their career aspirations differed, and they knew higher education was necessary. That's where they found common ground by choosing Virginia Peninsula Community College.
Jailyn, a Pre-K teacher with Hampton City Schools, enrolled at VPCC in 2012 and received an A.S. in social science in 2015. She cited cost as the main factor for selecting the College.
“All my life my dad has been a Tar Heels fan. So, I thought about going to the University of North Carolina. But out-of-state tuition was ridiculous,” said the older Baker, who lives in Hampton. “I was accepted to five four-schools and wanted to go to Old Dominion University. But I had to keep the cost in mind. VPCC was the best option.”
“My major was social science. I chose social science thanks to Dr. (Sylvain) Poosson because that was the closest thing that would transfer to Old Dominion for a communications program.
“At first, I was not sure. He helped me get on the right path during our advising meeting once he knew my goals,” she added.
Another factor that shaped Jailyn’s college choice is smaller class sizes. The intimate classroom settings provided a supportive environment that allowed her to adjust to college life and coursework. She also learned valuable skills, such as effective communication with professors and how to manage college-level assignments.
Madison is in her second year at VPCC majoring in visual arts. Although her sister’s VPCC experience was inspiring, proximity to home influenced her college choice most.
“I thought it would be easier for me, considering that I'm not really to go away from home yet. It will also help me transition by getting used to college life and the college schedule,” she said.
“I chose visual arts as my major because I like being creative,” she added, “and it will also help me transfer to the school of my choice.”
The dual enrollment program also played a role in Madison’s decision. The honor graduate had 16 college credits when she enrolled in 2022, and she received a Finish What You Started Scholarship.
Madison, a Newport News resident, is striving for a career in interior design. She admits her artistic side surprised her parents, who thought she had STEM interests until she picked Kechoughtan High for its Performing Arts Academy. The visual arts program at VPCC is allowing her to expand what began in high school.
She is pleased with developments so far.
“Right now, I am most proud of the artwork that I'm doing. I've done drawing and painting. I've done video editing and photography, which I never thought I would do,” she said.
“I wasn't confident at first, but now I am more confident in my skills. I'm also learning more things about art than I did in high school.”
Madison credits the nurturing faculty at VPCC for helping boost her confidence in her talent.
“So far, all my teachers have really helped me,” she said, acknowledging Visual Arts Chair CeCe Wheeler as a favorite. “She was my video techniques teacher. She was fun, and I really liked the class even though I never thought I'd like video editing.”
“I also liked my photography teacher, Cait Layton. She really encouraged me to do more with my work,” Madison added, recognizing Helen Lowrey, who teaches figure drawing, as another favorite.
“Most of the time, I question what I’m doing ... thinking I’m doing it wrong. (Lowery) motivates me by telling me I’m doing a good job,” she said.
Focused on evolving her creativity and maintaining a strong GPA, she plans to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University to seek a bachelor’s degree. She also hopes to get an internship in interior design in the next five years.
“My career choice motivates me. I really want to learn more about the field so I can land a good job and be successful,” she said.
Jailyn has no regrets about her college and career choices, although she initially had another career in mind. She transferred to ODU, where she earned a bachelor's degree in communications with a minor in sports management. She was aiming for a journalism career.
“While at Old Dominion, I was a freelance writer. I wrote several articles for a local sports website. I thought journalism would be my jam, just like my mom,” she recalled.
However, fate intervened.
Jailyn has worked with children since 2014, starting as a program assistant with Hampton Parks and Recreation for summer and after school. She eventually became a lead but left Parks and Recreation in 2016 for a full-time daycare teaching position. She joined Hampton City Schools in 2017 and served five years as an instructional assistant in kindergarten and Pre-K.
A teaching career was the furthest thing from her mind.
“My colleagues, particularly my school’s principal, would ask at the end of every school year, ‘Do you have those education classes done? I want you teaching.’ The summer after my fifth year, I had planned to move on from HCS.”
Nudged toward teaching, she put journalism ambitions aside in 2019 and enrolled in an early childhood education master’s program at ODU. Fate intervened again when she learned she only needed six credits for a provisional teaching license.
Jailyn returned to VPCC in 2022 and completed two summer classes. The credits led to her receiving an offer for her current position. Accepting the new job canceled the need for the master’s program.
“That was a full-circle moment because I had to take a step back to receive what was for me. I thank VPCC because without the College, I may have missed my calling,” she exclaimed.
Now in her second year of teaching, Jailyn is finding her stride in meeting the diverse needs of her young students. While challenging at times, she believes teaching was the right decision.
“I am most proud of my professional evaluations. They were better than I anticipated considering teaching was not the first career choice,” she said.
“That surprised me, and I was very proud of myself. I also received high praise from all three of my administrators at the end of the school year. That really gave me a boost of confidence entering my second year.”
She points to VPCC again for helping her perfect one of the main skills her job requires.
“I took public speaking with Professor Anthony Fotinos my first semester. That was not one of my strong suits when I entered college. After taking that class, I gained a lot of confidence in speaking in front of various audiences,” she noted.
Aside from instruction, Jailyn acknowledges teaching also has many administrative aspects — lesson planning, student data management, and constant communication with parents. She said parents of Pre-K students are particularly keen on knowing every detail of their child's progress, from potty training to social interactions.
Her goals within the next five years include completing a master's program. While still searching for the best option, she envisions potentially moving to upper elementary or middle school levels, with a particular interest in sixth grade.
Jailyn and Madison are now not only connected as siblings. They have VPCC as part of their foundation and can speak with authority about how experiences at the College changed their lives.