Kelly Newton, A2 STEAM 4th grade teacher

Kelly Newton grew up in South Lyon, the youngest child of Clifford M. Jurrjens, an engineer at Detroit Edison’s Fermi II Nuclear Power Plant, and Winifred A. Jurrjens, a middle school teacher. Education runs deep in her family, as she is a fifth-generation educator.

Her academic journey began in the South Lyon Public Schools, where she graduated in 1990. Eager to expand her horizons, she enrolled at Eastern Michigan University, earning her first degree in sociology in 1995. After spending some time in the “real world,” she felt a calling to pursue a career in teaching. Returning to Eastern Michigan University, she obtained her teaching degree in 1997, graduating with honors. Her student teaching experience at Pittsfield Elementary School solidified her passion for education.

Newton started her teaching career as a substitute teacher in Ypsilanti, quickly transitioning to a first-grade teaching position at Ardis Elementary School. When the district faced financial challenges and closed Ardis, she continued her journey at Estabrook Elementary School, where she spent 11 years. During this time, she also pursued further education, completing her master’s degree at Eastern Michigan University and becoming a certified reading specialist.

Following the consolidation of Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts, Newton seized the opportunity to join Ann Arbor Public Schools as one of the pioneering elementary PLTW (Project Lead the Way) teachers. Teaching at Abbot and Eberwhite Elementary Schools, she embraced the role of a lifelong learner, pursuing a Master of Arts in Educational Technology from Michigan State University.

After six rewarding years and the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Newton decided to return to the classroom and realized her dream of teaching at A2STEAM. Specializing in project-based learning, she found her true passion in education. With 24 years of teaching experience under her belt, she has had the privilege of teaching every grade level from Kindergarten to fifth grade, though grades 3 and 4 hold a special place in her heart.

A2 STEAM Principal Torian Billings says that Newton’s expertise in differentiation and teaching practices is only exceeded by her kindness and care for students.

“She is a thoughtful and intentional teacher who seeks to meet the needs of all students that enter her classroom,” he says. “Her commitment to our school community and her families is evident every day. Our school community is truly lucky to have such a loving and thoughtful teacher in our building.”

Outside of the classroom, Kelly says she is blessed with a loving family. Her son, Alex, attends A2STEAM as a fifth grader, while her daughter, Nora, is on the brink of graduating from Skyline High School. Kelly and her husband, Steve Newton, will celebrate their 24th anniversary on May 20th, 2024. Together with their pets—dog Penny, cats Ruby, Ted, and Cinder, and their tortoise Edgar Sheldon—they call Ann Arbor home.

Why did you pursue a career in teaching?
I was drawn to teaching because I have a passion for sharing knowledge and helping others learn and grow. I find fulfillment in seeing students develop new skills, gain understanding, and achieve their goals. Additionally, teaching offers opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and making a positive impact on society by shaping the minds of future generations. 

Describe an average workday.
5:00 AM: Wake up and start my day.
5:15 AM: Work out to energize myself for the day ahead.
6:00 AM: Feed my children and attend to our usual morning family routines.
7:00 AM: Head to school.
7:30 AM: Arrive at school and begin preparing for the day ahead.
8:00 AM: Prep morning work and materials for your class.
8:30 AM: Lead the morning meeting to set the tone for the day and foster a positive classroom environment.
9:00 AM: Teach math, focusing on engaging and instructive lessons.
10:00 AM: Conduct word study activities to enhance vocabulary and language skills.
11:00 AM: Guide students through writing exercises, providing feedback and encouragement.
12:00 PM: Head to lunch, taking a well-deserved break and enjoying some peaceful time.
1:00 PM: Resume teaching, focusing on reading comprehension and literacy skills.
2:00 PM: Engage students in project-based learning activities, encouraging creativity and critical thinking.
3:00 PM: Pack up and prepare to conclude the school day.
3:30 PM: Grade papers and provide feedback on student work.
4:30 PM: Clean up the classroom and prepare it for the next day.
5:00 PM: Head home, wrapping up my workday and transitioning to personal time with my family.

What are your best tips for classroom management?
Establishing a firm but friendly classroom environment while maintaining high expectations and stable, safe, and predictable routines requires a delicate balance. 
Here are some tips to achieve this:

  • Build Relationships: Take the time to get to know each student individually. Show genuine interest in their lives, hobbies, and concerns. This builds trust and respect.
  • Clear Expectations: Set clear and consistent expectations for behavior, academic performance, and participation from day one. 
  • Positive Reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement to acknowledge and celebrate students’ efforts and achievements. Praise specific behaviors or accomplishments to reinforce desired actions and encourage a positive classroom atmosphere.
  • Model Behavior: Be a role model for the behavior you expect from your students. Demonstrate respect, patience, and kindness in your interactions with them and with others. Actions speak louder than words.
  • Establish Routines: Develop structured routines and procedures for common classroom activities, such as entering the classroom, transitioning between tasks, and completing assignments. Consistency helps students feel secure and know what to expect.
  • Give Choices: Offer students choices within the boundaries of your expectations. This empowers them to take ownership of their learning and behavior, fostering a sense of responsibility and independence.
  • Use Nonverbal Cues: Utilize nonverbal cues such as eye contact, proximity, sign language, and gestures to manage behavior discreetly and effectively. This can help prevent disruptions and maintain a positive learning environment without escalating the situation.
  • Stay Consistent: Be consistent in your approach to classroom management. Enforce rules and consequences fairly and consistently for all students. Predictability fosters a sense of stability and security in the classroom.
  • Reflect and Adapt: Regularly reflect on your classroom management strategies and their effectiveness. Be open to feedback from students and colleagues, and be willing to adapt your approach as needed to meet the evolving needs of your students.

Why did you want to work for Ann Arbor Public Schools?
My desire to work for Ann Arbor Public Schools is rooted in a deep connection forged during my student teaching experience at Pittsfield Elementary School. This experience provided me with firsthand insight into the school district’s values, educational philosophy, and commitment to excellence. Witnessing the positive impact of AAPS on students and the community sparked a desire within me to become a part of this esteemed educational institution.

What do you like about working at A2 STEAM specifically?
A2STEAM in Ann Arbor stands out as a wonderful school for several reasons:  First of all, the emphasis on STEAM Education and Project-Based Learning. Secondly, we use innovative teaching methods: A2STEAM teachers employ innovative teaching methods to engage students and inspire a love for learning. We leverage technology, experiential learning opportunities, and interdisciplinary approaches to make lessons relevant and meaningful to students’ lives. Thirdly, A2STEAM has a diverse and inclusive learning community. Finally, A2STEAM has a supportive and dedicated staff. The staff at A2STEAM are passionate educators committed to the success and well-being of every student. They go above and beyond to create a nurturing and supportive learning environment where students feel empowered to reach their full potential. Overall, A2STEAM is a wonderful school that provides students with a well-rounded education, fosters a sense of community and belonging, and prepares them to become future leaders and innovators in a global society.

What’s the happiest part of your day?
Oh, that one is an easy one. Witnessing the moment when a child learns something new and makes a brilliant connection is undeniably one of the happiest parts of the day for me. It’s a magical moment filled with excitement, joy, and a sense of fulfillment. Seeing the spark of understanding ignite in a student’s eyes and knowing that you’ve played a role in their learning journey is incredibly rewarding. 

Is there anything you want to accomplish by the end of the school year?
I hope that by the end of the year, I can help students make healthy academic growth: Strive to help each student make progress academically, whether it’s improving their reading comprehension, mastering math concepts, enhancing their writing skills, or excelling in their PBL creations. I also hope to foster a growth mindset and encourage students by emphasizing the importance of effort, perseverance, and resilience in the face of challenges; and help them develop the belief that their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. I also hope to promote social and emotional learning: Support students’ social and emotional development by providing opportunities for self-reflection, empathy-building activities, conflict resolution skills, and fostering a positive classroom community.

How do you handle stress and avoid burnout?
Well, stress eating is probably not the best answer, but it is an honest one. Time with friends and family help as well.

What do you want most for your students?
I want them to grow up to be good people who care about one another, their community, and the differences they can make to create a brighter future.

Favorite podcasts, websites, apps:
Too many to name.

How would you fare if you were alone in the wild?
Just fine. I was a Girl Scout leader. I am first aid and CPR trained as well. 

If you had to pick one thing, what’s the best invention in your lifetime?
Oh, I really cannot pick only one. The cellular phone, the entire robotics industry, and medical technology has improved so much. I really can’t choose one.

How do you build strong relationships with your students?
I make an attempt to listen to them and get to know them as much as I possibly can. Again, I also treat students with respect and expect to earn their respect as well.

If you could keep only five possessions, what would they be?
I just lost a parent, things are not worth more than people. I think I’d rather have my people around me.

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?
I think I might like to be a sociological researcher or an archaeologist. 

What have you changed your mind about recently?
Chat GPT and AI programs, I have grown to appreciate them. Sorry, still a tech nerd at heart.

Was there a teacher who had a powerful influence on your career? If so, what did you learn?
My mentor teacher Olida Harris had a powerful influence on my life. She was always so calm and collected. She had a beautifully organized classroom. Her management skills were legendary. I loved working with her.

What are your thoughts on the district’s focus on dignity, belonging, and well-being this year?
I am all for it! I wish the rest of the world would focus there as well.

How is teaching different from the way you imagined it would be?
Well, I am a teacher’s daughter. So I had a pretty good idea about what the job entails. I grew up helping my mom. I loved teaching then and I still love teaching many, many years later.

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
This too shall pass. Just kidding. Be consistent and caring. Be sure to do your homework and prepare for lessons ahead of time. Talk to your mentor teachers and be sure to ask for help when you need it. 

What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
“My child learned so much the year they were in your class.” Or: “My child loves going to school this year.” Those two absolutely make my day.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
Knowing that teaching is a profession that contributes to the greater good by shaping future generations and helping to build a better society gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would that be?
Miguel Cardona, education secretary of the United States. I have a few ideas I would love to run by President Biden.

How has teaching changed since your first year?
Well, that was over twenty years ago. The COVID-19 pandemic changed education drastically. The amount of work has definitely increased for the classroom teacher. 

What do you know now that you wish you had known then?
So much! Everything! I was a young, inexperienced teacher once. I was fortunate enough to have wonderful mentor teachers to guide me specifically Margaret Trapp, Barbara Dykman, and Jan Thompson from Ypsilanti Community Schools.

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
I know everyone thinks we “get the summers off” but most of the teachers I know work a second job or do additional professional development at that time. We tend to work 10-12 hours a day during the school year as well.

How do you spend your summers?
I teach other teachers for Project Lead the Way or for the Michigan Education Association. I work on writing curriculum for my classroom. I also attend additional professional development.

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