Jordan Schools has been on a mission since she was a child. Now, with a master’s degree from UT, she’s prepared to take that mission to a new level.
Schools was born in Knoxville but moved with her family to Chennai, India, when she was three years old. In India, her parents started Mission Explosion International, an organization that rescues and houses children rescued from slave-labor conditions through its children’s home, Freedom House.
After spending much of her childhood and teenage years organizing sports programming for the children of Freedom House, Schools came back home to Knoxville in 2009 to attend Johnson University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sport and fitness leadership in 2015.
During much of that time, Schools frequently traveled back and forth between the United States and India.
“India was my second home,” Schools says. “I could never stay gone for long.”
After completing her bachelor’s degree, Schools applied to graduate school at UT—and only UT.
“There was no backup plan,” Schools said. “I always wanted to be a VFL. I told myself: ‘If I’m not accepted to UT, I wasn’t cut out for this.’”
This week, Schools will receive her master’s degree in kinesiology with a concentration in sport psychology and motor behavior.
In about three weeks, Schools will return to India for the summer with her husband, Joey, and her 10-year-old daughter, Kylee. Back in Chennai, she will assist with Recreation and Children’s Education (RACE), a program she initially launched as a teenager in 2004 to provide relief for children after the devastating Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.
Schools said her time at UT has motivated her to improve the program and explore new opportunities.
One of her goals is to foster great inclusion. After researching the role of gender in sport for development and peace, Schools realized trainers often unintentionally leave out large portions of the population in places like India.
“It starts with girls sitting on the sidelines during soccer clinics,” Schools said. “Then it expands to age and ability level. Coaches aren’t trained to address cultural exclusions. It gave me this extra motivation to train the organizers and coaches to make sure our programs are inclusive of everyone from the start.”
Schools’ research also led her to the topic of coach caring, one of her thesis advisor’s key research areas. She examined the perceptions that athletes have about how their coaches do and do not care for them, and how caring can impact athletes’ valuation of themselves.
“Jordan’s thesis is among the first in our field that focuses on athletes’ perceptions of coach caring,” said Leslee Fisher, director of the sports psychology and motor behavior graduate program and Schools’s thesis advisor. “Her findings will help to develop coach education curriculum to help coaches understand the relationship between coach caring and athlete performance.”
For Schools, coach caring stretches beyond sport. She believes her role as a mentor and caretaker for girls at the children’s home is similar to the role coaches play for athletes, especially in developing countries.
“Sport has a healing property,” Schools said. “When power dynamics come into play, caring is no longer a privilege, it’s a duty for us as leaders.”
During the summer in Chennai, Schools will conduct research about coach care experience with Indian athletes while serving at the children’s home. She’ll come back to the United States in the fall to begin a PhD program in leadership at Johnson University.
Ultimately, Schools hopes to encourage the 24 kids currently living at Freedom House to pursue education, like she did.
She wants to mentor kids like Shakela, a 13-year-old girl who was blinded with battery acid by her father after failing to bring home enough money from begging. After she was rescued, Shakela told Schools, who she affectionally refers to as “Auntie,” that she didn’t want to go back to school because of uneasiness about her physical appearance.
Schools encouraged her to return, and she did. Now in the children’s home, Shakela has become a role model for the younger girls.
“Where there was hopelessness before, Shakela is now caring for the younger ones and taking pride in it,” Schools said. “To be able to go back and talk to her about her future and tell her she can go to college and that I have her back all the way, that is a beautiful gift.”
Driven by her faith and her new knowledge, Schools is eager to begin the next chapter of her career, where she will carry the torch to bring light to the children and coaches of Chennai.
“I’ve been equipped,” Schools says. “Now it’s time to go and equip others.”