Every few months, we’ll be introducing you to a new School on Wheels staff member so you can learn more about the people who make our programs run successfully! This month, we’re highlighting Kelly Coker, our Vice President of Programs, who shares a very special distinction here at School on Wheels – she’s the only person who’s worked here twice! While she used to work with our development team, we’re happy to have her back on the programming side of things!

What is your role at School on Wheels?
I serve as the Vice President of Programs. My role is to provide vision and strategic oversight to our program. I assess impact, determine where changes/improvements can be made, and look at future expansion of our program. I have a phenomenal team, so really, together the entire Program Team makes sure these things happen!

What did you do before you came here?
I have worked in the non-profit sector my entire career. Other organizations I have worked for include Partners In Housing, KIPP Indy Public Schools, and Central Indiana Youth for Christ. I have worked both in the development and the program side of non-profit management. In each place, I have been able to advocate for youth who are most in need. I am extremely humbled to have been able to serve at such amazing organizations.

kelly 2Why did you decide to join the School on Wheels team?
There are a lot of reasons that I decided to join this team. I was involved with the organization even when I did not work here, so the mission is near and dear to my heart. It was also the position that persuaded me to join the team. I was ready to be 100% invested in the programming side of the non-profit sector, and School on Wheels gave me that opportunity.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?
The mission is definitely my favorite thing about my job. It’s easy to come to work every day when you get to play a small role in breaking the cycle of homelessness through education for families in Indianapolis. But, I can’t answer this question without also saying my team. I literally have the best coworkers.

Can you share one of your favorite tutoring stories?
A lot of my favorite tutoring stories are simple: they are small moments of knowing that kids feel safe and secure and are excited to be where they are. At one of our school sites we meet the kindergartners at their classrooms and walk them to the tutoring room. When I arrived at the classroom, one of our little kindergarten students grabbed my hand and looked up at me with a big smile and said, “I love tutoring.”

I have also sat with a challenging student who didn’t want to do any work. After leaving her to herself for a while, I joined her on the floor with the alphabet manipulatives she was playing with. Without saying anything I just joined her in her activity. Eventually she was smiling at me and we were working on spelling with the Alphabots. It probably wasn’t the most academically challenging session, but whatever was bothering her when she walked in the door seemed to dissipate as we worked together. Hopefully it’s that feeling that will keep her coming back, and eventually keep her learning the things she needs to know to be successful in school.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I am an introvert.  A social one, but still, incredibly introverted.

What exciting projects are you working on right now?
We are currently researching two potential program expansions, and both are very exciting. Our existing programs serve K-12 students while they are experiencing homelessness. However, pre-k students living in instability and children who have been impacted by homelessness, but no longer live in a shelter can also greatly benefit from School on Wheels services. Preschoolers experiencing homelessness are less likely to be ready for kindergarten than their housed peers.

We also know that the experience of homelessness continues to impact a family for 2-3 years after they are stably housed. Our program expansion focuses on filling a service gap to provide educational support once a family becomes stably housed. We are in the research phase of what it might look like for School on Wheels to serve pre-K students as well as families after they move from a homeless shelter into stable housing. We will pilot both program enhancements during the 2017-2018 school year and determine further expansion from there.

Want to learn more about Kelly and our other staff members? Check out our other Meet the Staff blog posts or our staff page!