Former teacher brings experience with at-risk youth and adaptive physical education to empower students
For Academic Coach Kelley Newman, working with non-traditional high school students is what she’s prepared for her entire professional and academic career. She earned her bachelor of science in physical education at Ball State University, graduating first in her class, followed by her master’s in health education from the University of Alabama. But it was her minor in adaptive physical education, helping students with physical and learning differences acquire essential skills, that really shaped her coaching style. “I see people as individuals and celebrate what they are capable of—not what holds them back.”
After graduating, she spent 14 years as a teacher working with at-risk students of all ages who struggled to balance school, work, and responsibilities at home. “I found a lot of students falling through the cracks. No matter how hard they tried at school, it just wasn’t relevant for them.”
Success in School Is Tough When You’re Worried About Your Next Meal or Gang Violence
For many of her students, life’s realities made it difficult to prioritize school. “A lot of them had jobs and needed to pay bills and put food on the table or watch younger siblings while their parents worked.”
Hearing those stories really shook her as a teacher. “I had elementary age kids filling their backpacks during free breakfast for the weekend because they knew the only food they would get was at school. I don’t know that I would have succeeded in school, having to worry where my next meal would come from.”
Kelley taught other students who were involved in gang violence and for whom school simply became irrelevant despite her best efforts. “I tried to show these students that education is key and knowledge is power, but for them, reputation and street credibility were a matter of survival and their focus was in the streets—not the classrooms.”
Kelley’s Now There for Their Second Chance
Kelley remembers the students she tried to help previously and sees their struggles in her current students. She says she was drawn to her coaching position at Smart Horizons Career Online Education as an opportunity to help students like these have another chance with their education, and to become empowered over their future.
“Fast forward to adulthood, and they have seen how tough it is to get ahead without a diploma. They tell me what they are up against. They say, ‘Kelley, I tried to survive without my diploma but I’m struggling. I’m living paycheck to paycheck and I’m not making my bills. Not having my diploma has stopped me from everything I want to achieve.”
Kelley has the experience and empathy to connect with adults returning to high school. Poised to reengage them into education she shares, “I am there to empower, to motivate, and to help. There is nothing more rewarding than helping people open doors for a brighter future.”
Kelley’s exceptional abilities did not go unnoticed. She was promoted to a Team Leader positions within just 6 months of being hired.
Coaching Means Focusing On Abilities, Not Disabilities
Kelley says her coaching style was forged during her college years at Ball State. Leveraging her minor in adaptive physical education, she led open gym recreational nights for students who were wheelchair-bound. “People aren’t ‘handi-capped,’ they are ‘handi-capable,’” a favorite professor would tell her. This inspired her guiding principle for motivating her students:
“When you treat people as individuals and not the product of what you are trying to achieve you will get more out of them.”
Today, Kelley celebrates student victories, one accomplishment at a time. Adults can feel overwhelmed coming back, especially when they’ve been out of school for years. She tells them: “You don’t need to jump 17 steps, just take one step forward. Before you know it, you’re a snowball going downhill and headed toward the finish line.”