After earning her associate degree in Child Development, Jessica King began working on her bachelor’s through night classes in Florence, Alabama, near her home. During that time, at the advice of a professor, she began working at a Head Start center as an assistant and then lead preschool teacher where she further explored her passion for early education. Wanting to be as equipped as possible to help her students, she began a master’s in Elementary Education at a local university, but she paused her education when she and her husband moved to South Carolina.
“I began working at a Catholic school here in South Carolina when we moved, but my plan was to continue and get my master’s. When we found out we were pregnant with my son, I put everything on hold for a while.” Even through pregnancy and raising her son through his early years, Jessica continued researching different master’s programs because she had the goal to finish. In the years that she was on a hiatus from school, she began to see major universities offering degree programs in online formats, and her roots were pulling her mind back to Sweet Home Alabama.
“Even when we lived in north Alabama, I had wanted to go to UA. I just couldn’t drive three hours both ways every weekend for classes.” UA’s early distance programs were comprised primarily of weekend classes on campus. By 2015, when Jessica was considering going back to school, UA’s College of Education had developed several of its accredited master’s degrees in completely online formats. “I realized I could be the first in my family to be an alumna of The University of Alabama. I wanted to be able to say, ‘I went there.’ And my husband was excited about having someone in our immediate family be a UA graduate.”
Jessica was drawn to UA’s online MA in Educational Psychology with a concentration in Learning and Assessment because a better understanding of learning would enhance her ability to teach the young minds in her classroom. “After researching the program, I realized it was right up my alley and would build on the knowledge I had gained from my associate and bachelor’s degrees,” she said.
Around the time Jessica applied and was accepted, she found out she was pregnant with their second child – a girl. But this time, she wasn’t going to put her education on hold. “I began the program with a newborn. It was a challenge, especially in terms of time management.” She took one class at a time to avoid overloading herself, especially since her husband’s job takes him out of town often. “The first year, I was able to log on for class after she went to bed, but as she got older and her bedtime got later, it was harder. My son, who was in second grade at the time, was more help to me than he’ll ever know. Sometimes he would read her a story and tuck her in for me so that I could keep doing school.”
Jessica’s online classes were immediately applicable to her physical classroom, she said. She taught second grade, kindergarten and, for the last three years, a prekindergarten 3-year-old class, all in the same private Catholic school in South Carolina. “Learning about how the brain learns and retains memory helped me with teaching my students.” Jessica had already built a strong language arts curriculum in her classroom, but the Learning and Assessment master’s helped her develop a math program that is just as strong. “The coursework helped me think through evidence-based research on how their young minds work so I could help them become more fluent in their math to take their knowledge beyond rote memory and recitation so they won’t just lose what they’ve learned,” she said.
Jessica was able to utilize research from her thesis to help other teachers better communicate with parents. “I was drawn to how important the connection is between home and school and how we can use that to improve our practices,” she said. Her research looked at communication tools utilized by teachers and found that in classrooms where the teacher employs greater parent communication through apps and other communication tools beyond a typical class website and email, both parents and teachers suffered less stress as a result. In 2021, she’s presenting this research at the state conference for her school system. She’s excited to help others put this information to use for better outcomes.
In the midst of teaching, researching, going to school and raising her children, Jessica was also caring for her husband as he fought two different forms of cancer. She recalled getting lots of studying and schoolwork done while sitting by his side during chemotherapy treatments. “We’re all so glad he’s in remission now,” she said. Her husband received his one-year checkup and clean bill of health just one month before Jessica graduated in December 2020.
Jessica and her family traveled to Tuscaloosa for commencement, and she said she’s grateful UA found creative and safe ways to hold graduation ceremonies during the pandemic. “I’m so glad I got to walk. I wanted my kids to see it – to see me walk across that stage. I knew it would be more meaningful, and it was definitely good for them, especially my son, to see all that hard work culminating in a reward.”
“I realize now how much I love school and I want to keep going. After a little time off, I want to go for my doctorate and maybe one day teach at the college level. Once you find your path, everything works out.”
Published: February 9th, 2021