In 2019, the leading college data and analytic firm College Factual rated William Woods University (WWU) as the top university in the state of Missouri for non-traditional students. No one personifies the idea of non-traditional student, which includes online students, students over the age of 25, transfers, commuters, and international students, than Kayla Deal ’20.
As a single mother of three, dance instructor, preschool teacher and commuter student at The Woods, Deal juggles many daily tasks. The 28-year-old is working toward her moment in the spotlight, when she will walk across the stage with her three kids cheering her on in the audience and graduate with degrees in History and Social Science education. She explains in her own words to Woods Today reporter Veronica Townsend her experiences of being a non-traditional student at WWU.
I am a single mom of three: Avery, 8 ½; Brantley, 7; and Cloey, 5 ½. I want them to be proud of me and to know that no matter the obstacles or mountains thrown in front of them to follow their dreams and accomplish them. Getting my college degree while raising three young children certainly is an example of that.
The key to getting it done is organization. If anyone has been in the classroom with me, they see my color coordinated planner is always packed full because I organize everything. I have always been organized even in high school and had a teacher who taught me how to color coordinate my notes. I have multiple different color highlighters and pens for each of my classes, kid’s activities and work schedule. I color coordinate everything I’m doing and write it all down. My planner gets me through the day.
My parents help me a lot when it comes to getting the kids picked up when they need to when I cannot. Most of the time during the week I am in school for most of the day. I also teach at a Pre-School in Jefferson City and teach dance at night. My girls’ extra-curricular activities consist of just dance, which does not conflict with the schedule because I am already in the studio anyway. My son does martial arts and my mom takes him. When I get home that is the time where I do my homework.
“Non-traditional” at The Woods
My connection to William Woods started when my mom graduated from here. My dad moved to Missouri about six months before I did, asked around what the best area colleges were, and among the ones always mentioned included William Woods. I did some research and really liked the small knit community that WWU offers. Whenever I came for a campus visit, I liked the campus and am happy with my pick.
Since getting here, I have seen how the University benefits non-traditional students like me.
Like times when my professors knew my situation, and assured me that if I ever needed to bring one of my children into class or had to miss a class due to them being sick, they would work around it and it wouldn’t count against me. I had some professors allow a couple days extension on work if something came up as well. They always want to make sure I am able to do my work and be engaged with the class as much as possible while also being a good mom. As a commuter, WWU is also a good traveling distance for me – the campus is only about 20 minutes one way. WWU’s flexibility in scheduling is a benefit to me because I can work my work schedules around my class schedules so that is good.
Learning about History Education at the Woods
When I first started, Dr. Craig Smith was there, and he was a hoot. He inspired me to change my minor in history to a major. Now, I am a double major in History and Social Science Education. It is a small history community on campus, so that it was more like a complete friendship rather than we are just there for a class. We were able to communicate with each other and have discussions. In a bigger school, you would not be able to have that close communication with other majors in your area. I also am fond of all of my education courses because they have been so small, and we have been able to bounce ideas from each other which is nice.
I also have learned the importance of applying literature in all my course work. I came into my education thinking that I am just a history teacher and there would be no need for literature or anything like that. Now that I have gone through the program, I actually do think that literature is something that is a very important subject in my history class because of primary documents. Textbooks in my opinion can be used but one should not just focus on them. Being able to branch out on other literature is going to be one thing I take from my William Woods Education.
Finding Similarities in Dance and Education
It seems like since I came out of the womb, I have been at a dance studio. I have learned at the Moscow Ballet and the American Ballet company for the Nutcracker. Additionally, I studied in New York and my choreographer there graduated from a top dance school, Julliard. I’ve also studied in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and other dance conventions. This last school year, I choreographed for Blair Oaks High School for their competition team. Dance has afforded me the opportunity to spread my foot throughout the United States.
In my WWU studies, I wrote a paper about the history of ballet. It was an argumentative paper where I argued that all college athletes should be required to take ballet classes. I studied on the muscles used and the history of ballet and athletes that took ballet and how to incorporate it.
With dance, it is really a passion from the heart. You express it through your movements and your body whereas with education you are expressing it with your mind. It is all about passion. I have a passion about teaching what I enjoy. I want students to have the same joy that I do. When educating about dance, I want my dancers to share the enthusiasm I have. When teaching, I want them to see the passion I have with history and willingness to learn about history just as much as I do.
Adjusting to the ‘new normal’
COVID-19 has definitely been an interruption. I halted my Missouri Educator Gateway Assessments (MEGA) for a couple months. Dance was cancelled for a couple months but we were able to squeeze in a couple classes with new guidelines and make a recital happen this past weekend. The preschool was closed for two months but we are finally open and following strict guidelines as well. If one has not already figured it out, I stay busy and I am usually gone from sun-up to sun-down. When COVID-19 happened, I was forced to slow down. I am so thankful for that. It helped me get refocused, and I was able to just enjoy time with my kids’ time I will never get back as they are getting older.
Sharing words of wisdom
Be patient. Know that it is going to be hard but if you put the work into it, it will be rewarding in the end. Receiving my degree at William Woods is a special moment that I will be able to share with my kids, and I cannot wait for that special moment. If I can do it, you can do it as well.