The little sign at Jenna Miller’s desk says, “Life is simple – Just add water.” And for the science teacher, swimming champion and swimming coach who says water brings her serenity, even that sign holds a level of calm.
The epitome of high energy, Miller teaches, coaches, trains in the water and in the gym, and has one of those personalities that makes folks wonder which supplements she takes.
She’s busy, yes, but not so much so that she doesn’t make and take personal time for her students.
“She’s available any time we need her,” says biomedical science student Emma Wilson.
“Before school, after school, any time you want to talk to her.”
“She’s a kind soul, she has your back,” says Madison Davenport, also one of Miller’s biomedical science students.
Even her T-shirt shows her compassion.
Its red color, she says, is in support of fellow teachers. It advertises the Relay for Life in support of cancer survivors and in memory of cancer victims.
On the front, it says “Panthers fighting cancer” and on the back, “In memory of Jon Reed Peret,” a CFHS biology teacher who died from cancer last year.
Miller’s 12 ½-year-old golden retriever, Chase, recently died from brain cancer, and it’s apparent that even that grief is still raw.
“She has a heart of gold,” fellow science teacher Aundrea Rue says about Miller. “She’s always there for you in a pinch.”
English teacher Ann Twigg, who taught Miller, remembers her as “a student who gave 110 percent inside the classroom and in the pool for the swim team.
“She was a wonderful student. Academics and activity participation were important to her.”
Water, Miller says, has always grounded her, focused her, and brought her peace.
She’s been swimming competitively since she was 10, and says these days, that’s actually late for a kid to start.
“We were the people who were at the pool when it opened and left when it closed,” she says about her family.
Miller’s family are locals now, and she lives in Conway with her parents.
She grew up in York, Pennsylvania where her mother was an RN and her father, who now has a business in Little River, worked for a carpet company. Her older sister Meghan works at WBTW News 13.
After graduating from CFHS and from Coastal, Miller went through what she calls a series of career path decisions.
She was thinking biology teacher at first, and talked herself out of being a veterinarian or going into the military, and she even considered being a firefighter.
“I came full circle,” she says, “and realized the teaching path was for me.”
She says she teaches everything under the umbrella of science, including marine science, physical science and biomedical science.
“Whatever they need, I’m their gal.” she says.
Miller is serious about swimming and her accolades go back to her teen years. In high school, she was the 2005 rookie of the year; the MVP in 2006, state champion qualifier in various events from 2005 - ‘08, was on the Toast of the Coast team in ’05, ’06 and ’08, and was the Toast of the Coast winner in ’07.
Her US Masters swimming accolades include being a 30-time state champion, being the national champion in the 1,650 yard-free in 2012, and being a national championship qualifier in 2012, 2015 and 2016.
Right now, she’s training for her first open-water competition in June, in Charleston Harbor. She’s a little nervous about the 2 ½-mile swim, but she’s also excited about it. Water, she says, “feels like home. It’s where I find my comfort.
“Training is a huge stress reliever for me,” she says, and it helps her “diffuse after a tough day.”
Her parents taught her the discipline needed for competitive swimming, and a huge part of that was keeping her grades up.
“They were adamant about academics before athletics,” she says.
During high school, she put notes to study into a zip-lock baggie when she was in the pool and studied while she swam.
“I learned which pens worked really well and which ones don’t when they get wet,” she says, laughing at the memory.
Miller’s commitment to educating her students, not just about science, and also about their life choices, is as evident as her devotion to swimming.
“I’ll walk through every class, just to chat with them, even if it’s a simple, ‘How you doing?’ because it makes a difference,” she says.
That interaction helps her stay connected to the kids, and that connection, she says, is vital.
“You need to understand who your kids are before you can even get the content to them,” she says. “You can tell them how blood circulates through the heart until you’re blue in the face, but you have to understand who they are from day-to-day to have that connection.”
She knows that sometimes kids just need someone to talk to, or a sounding board to bounce things off of.
“No matter what you need, she’s always there to talk to,” Davenport says about her.
Miller knows the role high school can play in a kid’s life because she says Carolina Forest High School turned her life around.
“It was hard moving from one state to another, and going to a new school is scary for a kid,” she remembers. “You have to make new friends, you have to learn a new schedule and you have to figure out who you’re going to sit with at lunch, and who will be your friend.”
The students and the teachers at CFHS welcomed her, she says, made those transitions easier for her, and made her feel like part of the family.
“Carolina Forest always felt like home to me and I’ve always loved the school,” she says.