As a Single Mom and Online Student, Academic Coach Empathizes with her Students

Heather Stores, an academic coach at Smart Horizons Career Online Education, is living a similar life to many of the students she helps. She is the single mom of two young girls and she is in the process of earning a Master of Science in School Counseling through an online program. “I am in the same situation as my students, so I’m able to identify with their feelings,” she says. “They trust that ‘I get it.’”

As a former high school teacher with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Heather has both the counseling and teaching skills to help her students—many who have experienced educational trauma—succeed. “My bachelor’s and now my master’s in psychology/school counseling help me understand the problems students are facing—and the complex issues that led them to drop out of school in the first place. And my teaching background enables me to help them stay on track academically.”

Helping students stay on track is something that is very important to Heather. She checks her students’ progress every day. “If I see a student who is falling off pace, I worry that they will get too discouraged to keep on going,” she says. “So, I spend a lot of time trying to catch that early-on.”

She says that juggling being a single mom, working, and going to online school can be challenging. She helps her students by sharing personal success stories about overcoming obstacles to try to encourage them to do better or stay on pace.

Heather also enjoys empowering students to work through their own problems. An experience she had as a high school teacher taught her the importance of self-sufficiency. One of her students was having trouble filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). She could have filled it out for him, but instead, after answering some of his questions, she asked that he revise it himself.

“He was just scared of the process of getting online and applying,” she explains. “But, he did it himself and ended up getting a full scholarship!”

Even though she enjoyed being in the classroom, Heather says that she has the opportunity to help more students in her new role as an academic coach. “Most of the students here are so eager and grateful,” she explains. “It has been a breath of fresh air to work with so many students who are so excited about their education.”