Finding an educator more experienced than Dr. Mia Jones would be a difficult task. With over 30 years of service within the School City of Hammond, she served as a teacher, coach, and an administrator – working with students of all ages. Now, she is applying that experience to her work at Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana, serving as Assistant Director, Academics and Instructional Coaching.
Jones is a Region native and grew up in Hammond’s public schools where as a child, she knew what she wanted to do with her life – educate, demonstrated perfectly by a story her kindergarten teacher loves to tell.
“She says I came to school one day and told her that I never wanted to leave,” Jones said. “She said to me, ‘honey, you have to go home today, but maybe you’ll consider becoming a kindergarten teacher.’ So from that point on she let me play around with the class, teach a couple of lessons and she always said I was her little teacher. That stuck with me.”
Sure enough, Jones’ first job was as a kindergarten teacher for the School City of Hammond, where she spent the next 32 years of her career in seven different schools. Rather than retire when she was eligible to in April, Jones decided on a slight change in direction – to stay in education, but within a different network of schools.
Her daughter, through volunteer work in Chicago, learned about Big Shoulders Fund and told Jones about the nonprofit organization’s accomplishments in supporting Catholic schools and helping children attain a quality, values-based education. When she stumbled upon a job ad for Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana, she felt it was a perfect match.
“It seemed like something where I could really get involved and support their cause and mission,” she said. “When I started, the first thing I noticed was their positive climate and culture. It was refreshing, and I knew it stemmed from the mission and the passion everyone here has for accomplishing it. They’re all about building and developing educators and students, and that’s what I’ve tried to do for my whole career.”
Jones handles a wide range of responsibilities in her role with Big Shoulders Fund, focusing on developing academic programs and coaching educators across the schools within the Catholic Diocese of Gary.
“I’m working out in the field with teachers and principals, looking at data and helping them set goals on what they want to accomplish in a year or two,” she said. “I’m there to be a partner, to provide resources, and to coach them until they reach those goals.”
For one of her most recent projects, Jones developed individual educators at each school within the Catholic Diocese of Gary into coaches who can offer the same valuable support and guidance that she provides. Called the Instructional Coach Initiative, five schools are participating with their principals, nominating teachers who are ready to take on a leadership role.
Once per month, those teachers spend a day with Jones, absorbing her experience and advice to become mentors their fellow teachers can rely on.
“I’ve been in education for so long that I feel I can relate to all educators, no matter what point they’re at in their careers,” she said. “I’ve been the new teacher, the instructional coach trying to build relationships, and I’ve been the principal trying to lead the building. Sharing those experiences has been the most rewarding part of this. It’s about meeting people where they are and trying to help them find their strengths so they can continue to grow.”
Another effort Jones is particularly proud of is the School Environment Makeover Project. The Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana Founders Advisory Council and a few of Jones’ team members visited 11 schools and 33 different classrooms before the start of the school year. They injected $700 worth of gifts and renovations into each of the 33 classrooms to provide a makeover and new supplies, including easels and chart paper.
“The teachers were really excited,” she said. “They said it felt like Christmas, they’d never had help getting up and running before the school year. I remember as a teacher myself, I’d have to buy school supplies. My husband and kids would look in the back of the car and say, ‘who’s that for?’”
Throughout her first year with Big Shoulders Fund, Jones has found herself continually impressed with the passion Catholic schools and educators carry for their students.
“One of the things people often ask is why we support Catholic schools,” she said. “The answer is that these schools are offering a values-based education for their students, providing social, emotional, spiritual, physical, and cultural development in addition to academics to help grow children into productive individuals who go on to better their communities.”
To learn more about Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana, visit bigshouldersfund.org.