As Kelsie Kennon sets up cones, rackets and other gear for a practice session of badminton, her students at Chestatee Academy in Hall County come springing excitedly into the gymnasium ready to play.
“They’re really enjoying it,” she said. “And it makes it really enjoyable for me to see how much fun they’re having and actually getting excited to learn something new.”
It’s that energy that got Kennon, 23, interested in teaching and coaching in the first place.
“I wanted a way to connect with the kids on a level I know they enjoy, too,” she said. “These (middle schoolers) are old enough to be able to do things on their own, but still young enough to enjoy play.”
Kennon is enrolled in the University of North Georgia’s kinesiology program with a teacher certification focus, and she will complete her teaching internship next spring on the way to graduation.
She is one of the many students in the program who are based in or live close to Gainesville, which is why UNG is moving its health and physical education teacher training program to the Gainesville campus from Dahlonega in the spring.
Warren Caputo, assistant professor of kinesiology who leads the accredited program, said some students in the program are even commuting from Winder or Lawrenceville.
And most students in the 2019 and 2020 cohorts are also coming from in and around the Gainesville area.
“This will serve the students better,” Caputo said, adding that it will also assist with student retention.
The relocation also helps teachers in training like Kennon connect with a larger number of school districts, including in Hall, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, as well as teaching more diverse student populations.
That’s a big deal for Kennon, who hopes to land a job when she graduates.
“You’re very lucky to find one” right out of the gate, she said.
Kennon said she’ll also spend time this semester in professional development training, working on preparing her resume, performing mock job interviews and learning other soft skills.
“I tell them you’re interviewing from the moment you step into the first school we place you in,” Caputo said.
So, make a good first impression, he added, because the internship component of the teacher certification program could turn into a job referral.
According to UNG, future program enrollees will spend at least two semesters on the Gainesville campus before finishing their degree with a semester of teaching.
“Stepping into this field, I feel right at home,” Kennon said.
Kennon said she ran track and was a member of the cheerleading squad at her high school, and sports is a family pastime. Her father was a little league coach, and weekends are spent watching the big games on television.
“We’re a very athletic family,” she added. “I feel that also helped guide me in this direction. It’s something that’s second nature to me.”
It’s not always been easy for Kennon, though.
She admits to having some anxiety, for example, about working with elementary-age students, but that has turned out to be a positive experience, too.
“They are just so fantastic,” she said.
Kennon’s own enthusiasm has impressed Caputo, who observed her patiently on a recent afternoon as Kennon directed students in the fundamentals of badminton.
“We prep them to be health and physical education teachers,” and not just coaches, Caputo said.
Kennon said she has felt supported and her confidence has grown now that she’s working directly with students.
“I get really nervous when I hear I’ve got feedback coming my way,” she said. “But it definitely helps you grow … into the type of educator you want to become.”