After the third period bell rang, English III teacher Brooke Kells opened and stood at her door. Students came and went and she remained, brown eyes watchful of them as they entered, greeting each with a genuine, continuous smile. She waved, saying ‘good morning’ to students as they crossed the threshold into her room.
Beyond the door
Inside, a framed photo of Kells and her husband hung displayed behind her desk, next to a photo of one of Kells’ past cheer teams she coached on the bulletin board. From her desk to the extra table against the wall beside it, stacks of worksheets waiting to be graded rested on the tops of them. Desks aligned in neat rows, waiting to be filled in class. Agendas in bright colors readied on the whiteboard for the regular and honors classes, reminding students when their next assignment was due.
Students settled into their seats, and the final bell rang, a typical start to class for a first-year teacher at University, Brooke Kells. Kells made her way to the front of the classroom, ready to begin the period with the daily bellringer.
“They’re always something that you relate to,” junior Calysta Jack said. “It’s always something you can tie to your own life. It’s just a way of making the work part of your life; making it more easy to relate to.”
Having students partner up, Kells began the lesson for the day on the Bill of Rights. Projecting the bills in order on the screen at the front of class, she gave hypothetical scenarios for students to analyze and decide whether or not what was ‘happening’ was violating that right through an open discussion.
Throughout the lesson, Kells encouraged her students to be honest about their opinions while also being open-minded to other points of view.
“She tries to push me out of my box ‘cause I tend to stay in my comfort zone and write about things I always write about,” Jack said. “She’ll tell me to go out of my box, like write this way or just different perspectives from things. She shows you different ways to look at it so that you can write in a different form from it.”
From pushing her students to think outside the box to answering every question a student has during a lesson, Kells made the step to ensure all of her students kept up with their work while maintaining a light-hearted teacher-student relationship.
“She does extra for what you need,” junior Dalton Meredith said. “She’s a very fun teacher, and she’ll joke around with you. She’s all around a cool person. The fact that she’ll interact you, and she’ll make jokes with you. She’ll help you through what you need.”
Down a new path
Kells began working in sales in her first career, having graduated with her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Human Resources from Rollins College, she began teaching at Deltona High School in 2007. She was encouraged to begin teaching by her boyfriend at the time, Brian Kells.
“[Teaching] was harder than I thought,” Kells said. “I always respected what [Brian Kells] did, but I had no idea how challenging it was until I got up in front of a classroom.”
From 2008 to 2014, Kells taught English at Seminole High School and coached varsity cheerleading. Kells then taught intensive reading at Lake Brantley High School from 2014 to 2016, where she had juniors and seniors for two class periods per day, teaching them learning strategies to get a FSA, SAT or ACT score that would allow them to graduate.
“I had kids who’d been failing their whole life, and they were grateful to find someone who would give them the strategies to help them pass,” Kells said. “We had a 100 percent pass rate. That’s why they wanted to be there. They were very successful.”
Kells put in her leave of absence in 2016 to return to sales, where she worked for Varsity Spirit Fashion, where she designed and sold cheerleading and dance uniforms in Volusia County.
“I thought this job was perfect, but when they gave me the job I was like ‘Oh shoot, I only have Volusia County,” Kells said. “You know the challenges in this county, we don’t have money, we don’t have stadiums, so sports don’t have money. I was supposed to sell $350,000 worth of uniforms in this territory… and I struggled with it, and I was upset I struggled with it.”
In May of 2018, Kells attempted to return to teach at Seminole, but after their new principal gave Kells a schedule she was not satisfied with, she interviewed with Principal Intern John Devito on teaching English III, and she originally kept her job with Varsity, until the workload beame too much for her.
“I decided I can’t do two full-time jobs, selling cheer and dance uniforms, driving to places like Embry Riddle, giving them sizers to try on, measuring, designing, it was just too much,” Kells said. “What we’re teaching now is totally different from what I taught at Seminole, and even my Honors and Regular are two totally different [curriculums]… this is my tenth year, I decided to come back for the year, and see what would happen.”
Kells’ adjustment from teaching in Seminole county to Volusia brought on new challenges for her, such as school policies for students for absences and dress code, but Kells’ bright personality and teaching ability remained the same.
A coach in life
Throughout Kells’ teaching journey, she developed an abundance of friendships with students, staying in contact with many of them long after they graduated. Kells has not ceased creating these kinds of relationships.
“That’s the reason [student relationships] I teach… people I’ve taught and kept in contact with,” Kells said. “Being involved in their life and helping shape their future – It makes me feel really proud that they choose to keep in touch with me and want to share their experiences with me and how they’re doing, and them thanking me for helping them at an early age.”
One of these relationships Kells has is with alumni and University of Miami football player Lorenzo Lingard, who was coached by her husband from freshman year of high school up until he graduated. Kells made various memories with Lingard, most of them primarily related to football.
“Throughout high school, I would drive him to different combines [an event where athletes showcase talent] where he would get noticed by different colleges,” Kells said. “If my husband had something else to do for football and Lo didn’t have a ride, he was only fourteen or fifteen, I would take him and drive him.”
Knowing Kells for several years now, Lingard looks to her like a second mother.
“Mrs. Kells is a very genuine person,” Lingard said. “Very nice, very welcoming…very funny at times. Always has a smile on her face.”
Football is a large role in Kells’ life and schedule, but coaching cheer made a significant impact on her. While at Seminole, Kells coached and taught a cheerleader who was then diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer during her senior year.
“It was hard to watch her go through that,” Kells said. “Aside from Lorenzo, that was probably the relationship that impacted me the most.”
Cheerleader Chloe Zulcosky fought brain cancer for nine months up to her passing in 2012. However, Kells still stayed in touch with her mother and her brother up to this day, having taught her brother when the time came. After leaving Seminole High School, Kells stayed in touch with the mother and brother.
“That’s another example of what you do in a classroom and even beyond coaching really affects the families and the students,” Kells said.
“When teachers have relationships like that, it’s hard because we care about our students,” Kells said. “And when they go through good times it’s awesome to celebrate, but when they go through a tough time or an illness or obviously a terminal illness, it kind of puts everything in perspective.”
In addition to the teaching she did in the classroom, Kells tutored football players so that they could pass the SAT and ACTs, and improved their chances for a future in college.
“Several of our kids [football players] have gone off to college the past few years,” Brian Kells said. “[They] really brought their scores up after working with her and gave them the opportunity to get their scholarships.”
Having a hectic schedule in playing mom and teacher did not stop Kells from lending a hand when she can for her husband. Husband and teacher Brian Kells values the role of caretaker she plays in his life at home and as head football coach.
“She helps me with all the types of paperwork, running and picking up pre-game meals, to all kinds of stuff,” Brian Kells said. “If it wasn’t for her, I couldn’t be a good coach.”