The Cactus Classroom


Jennifer Swegler, Ap World History teacher, had been teaching for 14 years when she started in August of 2009. In her Ap class at Lake Ridge she has a class theme that states ‘In this class we stick together’. She has expressed this theme through her class by decorating it with a cactus.

Swegler attended an Ap teacher training session in 2019 with Jacob Clifford, who is an Ap Economics teacher. He was teaching strategies and giving ideas teachers can do with students to help them get a good score on Ap testing. Swegler then got the idea for her class theme when she was at the store and remembered what she learned in her training class.

“Some of the things that Mr. Clifford was teaching was team building, and trying to get the class to think of eachother as a team and to work together. I went home after the training and thoughts of a theme and me and my friend went shopping and we saw a sign that I have on my desk to this day that says ‘In this class we stick together’ and from then on that has been my class theme,” says Swegler.

Swegler has decorated her classroom with various cacti-themed decorations, from posters, to stickers and hanging lights. She ties in her class theme to cacti because of how difficult taking an Ap class is similar to the living condition of cacti and how alike cacti and students are.

“It’s like going through the desert. There is still life in the desert, it’s about finding it. Similar to finding understanding in your writing, or your study skills. Just like in a desert you are going to find things that team with life, I wanted to do something that acknowledged the difficulty of Ap World History and also mention the idea that we are all a cactus and we are going to create these deep vines that interconnect with each other,” says Swegler.

Swegler has used her class theme for four years and every school year she has a different class mascot. Her class mascots are crochet cacti that her friend made for her and every year students name the class mascot.

“My friend offered to crochet the cacti every year and my students named them as a fun little class pet. Prickel Rickel is the first year one when I first started my class theme. He actually had an instagram going that one of my students made and he would send out reminders of upcoming quizzes and tests. Cuddles Mcgee is the second one. He has a little mask on because that was the year we all had to wear a mask. Option 21 was last year’s cactus. The name was a mistake but the students seemed to love it so there he is. This year our cactus is Rizz unspoken, he is a little dreadlock type cacti,” says Swegler.

Working as a team is very important in Sweglers’ class. She frequently tries to encourage students to work together and help each other by hosting study groups, tutoring after school and also assigning group work and projects.

“I try to get kids to work together on things and encourage study groups and encourage students to give feedback to each other. I have given assignments where they go through each other’s writing and giving feedback, looking at things and giving specific feedback on how to improve,” says Swegler.

Swegler attended the University of Dallas and learned that you have to rely on the community and work as a group while at college. Apart from teamwork, she also wants to imply that her class is a community and that’s what she wants her students to learn from her class theme.

“In college I learned that you really do have to rely on the community and that’s something I want to implement in my students. When I was in college I had my own community. I started to build my community my freshman year when I was in a class everyone had to take and as I started to get to my upper level classes in college, I had a smaller community with just the people that were in my classes,” says Swegler.

Having a good class environment is something Swegler strives to have. She decorates her class with different cactus theme decorations,history posters and charts and also highlights past students who have gotten four or five on the Ap world test. Swegler tries to have a comfortable class environment where students feel able to ask questions, work together and overall are able to learn and participate.

“I really do try to make my class as comfortable and engaging as possible. I have decorations from around the world that we might study in work history then I also have my Sweglers sharpest wall with names of students that have gotten fives and fours, and also motivational posters because I think there has to be a balance of engaging material and stuff that is just fun and decorative. At the front of my classroom I have my big theme and moto decorated on a bulletin board,” says Swegler.