Through active listening and the ability to relate and connect, coach offers dedicated, individualized support 

Academic coach Jennifer Gearhart is the first of her family—not just her immediate family but also her entire extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins—to graduate from college. She now holds a master’s degree in education and helps coach Smart Horizons Career Online Education (SHCOE) students to live up to their own full potential.

Jennifer’s students are all from SHCOE’s partnership program with companies such as McDonald’s, Hilton, and Goodwill. Earning a high school diploma will open up more career possibilities to provide employees’ families with better opportunities. Many of Jennifer’s students even have promotions waiting for them when they graduate, and some are concurrently taking classes through corporate educational programs such as McDonald’s Hamburger University. So they’re under a lot of pressure to get their diploma.

It’s pressure that Jennifer can relate to. In fact, her own father was a manager for McDonald’s when she was growing up. “He worked very, very hard. He worked a lot of  hours. He knew that a workplace like McDonald’s enabled him to make a better life for his family. I see these same hopes in my students today.”

Jennifer has done a great deal of work and research into understanding and breaking the cycle of poverty and to repairing the damage of “educational trauma.” She has been teaching adult education for her entire career, and knows the critical role education plays in that interrupting that intergenerational cycle.

“From an early age right after college I realized that this is where I can really make a difference in students’ lives. I try to be a good, what I call an ‘active,’ listener. I don’t just hear my students but I really take the time to listen to them. It’s such an important skill in the field of education.”

Jennifer is a strong believer in an individualized approach. She likes to send inspirational quotes (including silly ones involving cats) that help lighten the mood and keep her students moving along. “I do my best to be in tune with each student and figure out how I can best help them.”

She says coaching is a delicate balance. “You need to diligently follow up and be in touch with your students, and you can’t judge them when they don’t respond. You need to be supportive, inspirational, and helpful. You need to help them come up with innovative solutions to help them succeed.”

“When I reach out, my students don’t always answer my phone calls, texts or emails,” Jennifer says. “But at the end, when they earn their diploma, I get a lot of emails saying how much they appreciated me pushing them along and inspiring them. I love to hear how I was still making an impact, even though sometimes it felt like I was not getting through.”

Some of Jennifer’s students have even expressed owning their own business one day. I tell them, “Anyone can do anything they set their mind to. Education helps ordinary people do extraordinary things!”


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