Jeannine Leclerc looks — almost always — like a woman on a mission because … well, she is.
There is no slow down in her step, or her day.
Life, to her view, is not to be wasted. Not a second.
There are, after all, too many lessons to share; too many students to try to reach; too many unexplored ventures; and, she says, as if to remind all others, too much opportunity to be seized.
Which is why colleagues describe her as a “dynamo,” a “force to be reckoned with,” a “tireless champion” and a person who approaches everything she does with kindness and a want to help others. “It all comes from the heart,” one of her co-workers noted.
Her life is rooted in education; it is foundational to everything she does and stands for, she says, proudly. It more than any one other thing shaped who she is, she says, and it is what drives her to inspire and help others.
Leclerc, 55, is the wellness coordinator and integration specialist at Monadnock Regional Middle/High School in Swanzey Center. She has been in education for 25 years, holding a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s in educational leadership from Keene State College.
But that component of her life, admirable as it is, only begins to define Leclerc, a mother to two sons, a respected yoga instructor, an activist, a civic volunteer and a breast cancer survivor.
She’s not extraordinary, she says. “I just want to help people and help others, as people have helped me. This is a great place to live … a great community. You just hope to be able to give back a little of what you’ve gotten from it.”
On December 1, Leclerc got engaged to her partner, Frank Romeo Jr., a Massachusetts native who operates a landscaping and property management business.
Leclerc spent a month of her summer recently at Kripala, a health and yoga retreat in Stockbridge, Mass. She completed a comprehensive 200-hour certification program focused on yoga, anatomy, diet and finding balance in life, she said.
“I’ll see where it takes me,” she said. “Yoga is another glue that holds my life together — besides my faith. It’s a daily thing.”
Where it will go, to be sure, is directly to her students.
Kripalu yoga is a form of hatha yoga that combines asanas, pranayama and meditation. Leclerc teaches that, and is a certified YogaKids instructor.
As Leclerc sees it, yoga — its sense of presence, even its language — is central to what connects the circle of her life: teaching, wellness, inclusiveness, empowerment and creating positive lifetime paths.
Robin Christopherson, the executive director for MCVP: Crisis & Prevention Center, nominated Leclerc for Extraordinary Women recognition, noting Leclerc’s efforts in raising awareness about the center’s prevention programs to her students.
“Turns out,” Christopherson writes, “we are not the only good thing she helps to make happen.”
Leclerc’s school-based work, she says, revolves “around healthy relationships for the whole school; giving everybody a place in the dialogue.
“Times have changed as it relates to relationships,” she added. “There’s bullying, consent, media literacy. The way I see it, my work is about helping kids make uncomfortable situations comfortable.”
Leclerc was born in Rome, N.Y., on an Air Force base. Her father’s work eventually brought them to this part of New Hampshire. Leo Leclerc was a printer. Her mother, Joyce, was an instructional assistant in the same school system she is in today, and volunteers at the Swanzey Historical Society.
They are retired. Leclerc has two sisters — Christine and Michelle — and a brother Paul, who lives locally.
She says all of her family is inspirational to her. “My parents always liked learning,” she said. “Dad always taught me, don’t be afraid to learn something new. My parents supported us all, in very different ways because of the things we like and enjoy.
“But it was always about continuing to learn.”
But Leclerc’s life has been neither uneventful nor linear. In fact, her challenges have been significant, including a failed first marriage, a nontraditional path to achieving her own educational goals, accidents that resulted in serious head injuries for both her sons, and a serious health diagnosis.
In 1999, Leclerc and her sons — Jeremy and Joshua — were in a car she was driving when it was struck by an 18-passenger van. They were returning from a Mount Snow. Life had gotten good at that point. Leclerc, now a single mom, had gone back to school, started a job and bought a house.
The Ford Bronco she was driving belonged to her father. It was going 18 miles per hour when it was struck by the van, which was going 20 mph. Still, Leclerc was knocked unconscious by the collision, and Jeremy, then just 11, struck the windshield head-first. When Leclerc came to, Jeremy was in the hospital. He suffered a brain injury.
“That was a tough time for our family,” she said. “A that time, they didn’t know a lot about brain injuries. I didn’t, but our whole life changed. With a brain injury, you have to keep things consistent. We had to modify his days, have home tutors. Jeremy called the time his six-month prison term.”
Then, just as Leclerc had settled into a new routine, her youngest son, Joshua, 15, had a separate incident that resulted too in a traumatic head injury. It was Mother’s Day that same year. Josh took a friend’s ATV out for a ride. He didn’t wear a helmet. The vehicle’s brakes failed and it slammed a tree.
Joshua’s wound required 35 stitches.
Doctor’s “perfectly paralyzed” him for three weeks, Leclerc said, as part of his recovery. He was on a respirator; there was concern about infection. He had a broken eye socket and foot, too.
“When we decided to take the tube out, he came out breathing on his own,” Leclerc said. But for a whole year, he had no physical contact.”
Both boys had issues with learning as a result of their injuries, Leclerc said.
There was no brain injury support group on the region, so Leclerc started one. And she created and taught a brain injury for educators’ course at Keene State. She also co-founded and presents at the N.H. Caregiver’s Conference.
“I wasn’t the only one going through this,” she says. “I think, when there’s a need, that’s where my heart comes from, and then building around that need and collaborating with other people to make good change.”
Leclerc said support groups and organizations were helpful in her life.
They certainly were again when, in 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But she gave back faster than she could take, working with Joy’s Network, a volunteer organization based in Keene that provides financial assistance and support for individuals with cancer.
Leclerc also started a breast cancer support group and is part of a team of volunteers that helps with the network’s Snowball and Joy Ride benefits each year.
Through it all, she said, education was a savior, an important undercurrent in her life, and a path of hope and possibility when sometimes that was hard to see. She was a single mom, waitressing on the side, taking classes here and there, and raising two boys.
“It took me four or five years to get my bachelor’s degree,” she said. “For me at that point, I had two choices: get a job, or get a better education. I was worried about that taking away time from my boys, but I talked with continuing education people. They told me to remember that (my going back to school) will be something to inspire them and enhance all of our lives.
They were right, she says, smiling.
“We all kind of learned together,” she said. “The boys were in school, I was in school. It opened the door for myself and for them. I was doing homework at ball games and karate studios, but we were together; we were a family. And all of the family and friends that came to support us. What’s really extraordinary are the things and the people that have come into my life.
“I couldn’t do it myself. Your situations in life, it’s what you do with them, not that you have them. It’s whether you make them positives or negatives.”
Leclerc’s life is dotted with times when she flipped adversity on its head and turned it into something powerful, inspirational and helpful.
That she does it almost always with a smile and momentum in her stride. It stands as proof — intended or not — that her personal rewards are payment enough.
Good teachers are like that.