“I’m a Pusher. I Push People to Graduate.” 

Last week, Smart Horizons Career Online Education (SHCOE) convened its second annual Academic Coach Retreat. The two-day event, held at the Putnam Lodge in Cross City, FL, was an opportunity for team-building, strategic planning, and employee appreciation.

Chief Operating Officer Wendy Kauffman explained the purpose of the Retreat: “The annual retreat gives us an opportunity to share our district strategic vision, celebrate accomplishments, and work together to identify ways to increase student engagement. It is also just a fun way to get to see everyone in person and to reward our coaches for the amazing, life-changing work they do.”

Topics included: communication strategies to effectively engage students at various points of the lifecycle to help them persist to graduation, goals for 2018-2020, and how the organization is currently innovating and improving in order to best meet the needs of students, partners, and communities.

I’m a Pusher. I Push People to Graduate.
The theme of this year’s retreat was “I’m a Pusher. I Push People to Graduate.” It was inspired by a 5-star Facebook review left by a very appreciative graduate praising her coach. “Absolutely LOVE this program,” read the review. “They will continue to push you until you finish and always check in on your to make sure all is going well! Alanna Taylor is the best academic coach ever.” Alanna quickly quipped “I’m a pusher; I push people,” a line from the movie Mean Girls where a persistent teacher refuses to give up on a struggling student. And our theme was born!

The team wore specially designed SHCOE Pusher t-shirts for the event. Kari Greenfield, Corporate Development Director for Cengage Learning, expressed our partners’ appreciation for the coaches by making handcrafted “Push” ornaments, adding one of our organization’s core values: “Have Heart.”

Academic Coach (“Pusher”) of the Year
Thank you to the hundreds of people who voted for the 2018 Coach of the Year. This year’s winner was Darlene Lawrence, who received countless accolades from hundreds of students and graduates: “She is very kind, helpful, and she always pushes me to continue with my goals….” “She makes me feel like she is on my team wanting me to graduate not because it’s her job but because she cares….” “She is a great motivator, and a great inspiration.” Congratulations, Darlene! Kudos to you and to all of our coaches who are the heart and soul of our organization!
Egg Drop Challenge
This year’s team-building activity, called “Egg Drop,” required teams of three to use a few select materials to devise a contraption capable of protecting an egg dropped from a 3-story balcony. The winning team built a hot air balloon looking thingamajig that ensconced their precious egg in an adorable cushion of safety. The team was made up of Academic Coaches Leigh Porch and Maureen Bennett as well as Communications Director, Mr. Porter Beermann. (Coach Koleena Schmidt demanded the judges review the victory, due to possible excessive and unethical use of Scotch tape; however, the victory stood.)

All Work and No Play?
Never! After a hard day of work, the team celebrated with a lovely meal followed by karaoke shenanigans. Coaches Gibson Garcon and Schmidt were natural performers, leading the festivities (potentially to the dismay of some local patrons who had happened upon the Lodge for an innocent Thursday evening). District Superintendent Dr. Howard Liebman appeared out of nowhere to croon several Frank Sinatra songs. And Ms. Kauffman and Director of Academics Teresa Salafrio belt out a heartfelt, “You’re the One that I Want” from the movie Grease.

Closing Moments
The final activity of the Retreat was surprising Ms. Salafrio with a video in which her coworkers, ranging from partners from McDonald’s and Cengage Learning, the Academic Coaches, and Dr. Liebman, recounted the tremendous impact she has upon our students, our organization, and our partners. Thank you, Ms. Salafrio!

In summary, the Coaches said it best:

“What’s really beneficial about the Retreat is the power of learning from one another. This is a highly dedicated team who believes in SHCOE’s mission. Each of my fellow coaches brings strengths, experiences, and perspectives that add to my toolbox for helping our students succeed. I returned renewed.”
—Leigh Porch

“The retreat was a wonderful opportunity to connect in person with the people that I am already connected to via our vision for the success of our students.”
Gibson Garcon

“When a group of excited and passionate people comes together to hone their mission and strategies, everyone benefits. The impact of the retreat will spread across to each coach and inevitably touch our students. It is an honor and privilege to work with this group!”
—Koleena Schmidt

It was an amazing retreat, and you could feel the energy and passion reverberate through every conversation, activity, and experience. From our staff, our partners, our students, our graduates: Thank you to our Academic Coaches!

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 10.37.42 AM

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 10.37.48 AM Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 10.37.55 AM