Even before graduating Bedford High School in Bedford, Mich., in 2017, Chelsey Neff knew the next step in her education — The University of Toledo.
UToledo’s proximity to her Bedford would allow her to commute and save money, sure, but it was her personal connection to the University that made the college decision-making process moot.
“I did not consider any other colleges because I knew UToledo had my heart,” Neff said. “Close to home, a great program and such a beautiful campus.”
Now 22, Neff is graduating in May with a bachelor of education degree specializing in teaching 7th through 12th-grade language arts and a bachelor of arts degree in English literature.
She’s spent the academic year as a student-teacher at Waite High School in Toledo teaching 11th grade American Literature under the supervision of Laura Stipancich, a high school English teacher.
“Together as a team, we conquered virtual learning and now have students back full time in the classroom,” Neff said. “I’ve been able to teach a variety of English language arts units such as Edgar Allan Poe, Transcendentalism, American Poetry and currently ‘The Great Gatsby.’
“My students at Waite motivate me to be a better teacher and student,” she added. “To say I’ve loved my time at Toledo Public Schools is an understatement.”
Stipancich said the pandemic created a set of professional challenges that she had never experienced in her nearly 30 years of teaching high school English, with teachers scrambling for professional development, altering lesson plans and literally revamping their classrooms.
“I chose to mentor Chelsey in these conditions because it would provide a ‘real world’ teaching experience and give her an idea of how circumstances change and how teaching has to adjust with them to best suit the student’s needs,” Stipancich said. “Chelsey and I learned how to navigate remote learning, Google Meet, and several other online resources together, and it was very helpful to have another perspective during the transition from remote learning, to hybrid learning, to in-person learning.
“Through every challenge, Chelsey has remained patient and positive and had developed a rapport with her students. Chelsey has continued to make great strides as a classroom teacher and having survived the most challenging student teaching experience in recent history, is poised to become an excellent ELA Teacher.”
From almost the moment she began her freshman year at UToledo, Neff has acclimated herself to the campus and in the Rocket community.
She was a member of CHAARG (Changing Health, Habits, Attitudes, and Actions to Recreate Girls), in which she and other students encouraged and motivated each other to eat healthy and work out on a weekly basis.
She was involved with the Student Affairs Committee at the Judith Herb College of Education during her sophomore year. She also worked as an education coach for the Toledo Transition Program, which provides an opportunity for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to attend college classes at UToledo.
It was also during her sophomore year that Neff had an educational epiphany. Since most of her education classes overlapped with courses for English majors, she decided to double major.
“I signed the paperwork and became an English Literature major from that point on. Extra literature classes were required, but I was able to juggle 18 credit hours and take four to five literature classes each semester,” she said. “It was a lot of reading and writing, but I was determined to finish strong.”
Her hard work was noticed. During fall 2018, Neff was nominated by the English department to become a member of Sigma Tau Delta, an international excelled English honor society.
Overcoming difficulties and challenges is something Neff is accustomed to. As she said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is a phrase I hold near and dear to my heart.”
When Neff was 5 years old her dad died from a heart attack at age 43. She still listens to her dad’s music collection — classic rock from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — to be closer with him.
For Neff, school was her “safe place.”
“I involved myself in as many extracurricular activities as I could juggle at once,” Neff said. “In high school, my teachers pushed me to be my best all while surrounding me with the emotional care and love that I lacked at home.”
Dr. Marcella Kehus, an associate professor in literacy education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, said Neff is “the teacher we picture when we talk about teaching to the whole child.”
She naturally addresses not only academic needs but is keenly aware of students’ social, emotional, physical and ethical development,” Kehus said. “As she has spent a full academic year in both a suburban and an urban high school, she has developed enticing lessons for whole classes while consistently keeping the needs of individual students with challenges in mind. Having overcome her own personal obstacles, she looks to school as an avenue for all students to seek their better selves.”
After graduation, Neff said she will substitute teach at Toledo Public Schools and Monroe County, Mich. for the remainder of the K-12 academic year, and that she will tutor students remotely over the summer.
Her long-term goal, though, is to teach high school English and be the kind of valuable in-class role model and mentor she’s had throughout her life.
“When choosing a career path, I knew I wanted to be an educator because my teachers impacted my life in a positive way, and I’m determined to give back to the future generations,” Neff said. “If I can impact at least one student, hopefully many students, in a positive way that would be my ultimate goal.”