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It Takes a Village

This alumna eliminated barriers for her students at Newport High School.
Arturo Minera
When Newport High School transitioned to a virtual format earlier last year, Donna Watts (’03) continued to do what she has always done—help her students and their families.

Watts, a youth service coordinator for Newport High School, has worked hard during the pandemic to eliminate barriers that prevent her students from achieving their education.

One of the most recent hurdles for students was a lack of internet access. But with partners like Stand Up Wireless, United Way, Cincinnati Bell and the Cincinnati Bengals, Newport High School students were able to have that access in order to complete their work. They also have the ability to get internet access by visiting the Brighton Center or the Boys and Girls Club.

“It’s become this great big collaboration in Newport to ensure that internet access isn’t a barrier to learning,” Watts says. “We work on that every day.”

A priority has also been placed on access to food, as students have been at home most of the time since the pandemic hit.

The Freestore Foodbank works with other suppliers in Newport to provide students with "Power Packs" of food. The school system offers the option for students to shop for free at Stock the Kitchen, which is similar to NKU’s on-campus food pantry, Fuel NKU. Beginning in August, Newport Independent Schools provided a curbside pickup option with hot lunches and breakfast for students.

“It’s become this great big collaboration in Newport to ensure that internet access isn’t a barrier to learning. We work on that every day.”

Watts, to put it simply, loves her job. She chose her path in education after realizing she enjoyed her time as a Sunday school teacher when she was a teenager.

“The first time I realized I loved working with children was when I became a Sunday school teacher when I was 16 years old,” Watts says. “I just loved diving into the Bible and helping to uncover God’s mysteries with students. I, as a teacher, was learning from them as well.”

She also has a love for military history. That love for military history transitioned into Watts declaring herself a history major during her time at Northern Kentucky University, where she was also a charter member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Alpha Rho Chapter. She loved her time on campus, and so did her family—her mother, three of her siblings, her sister-in-law and six of her cousins have all graduated from NKU.

While a youth service coordinator is different from a historian, Watts has always focused on families and home life.

“I loved to dive into what was going on with families and what women were doing during a time of war,” she says. “Women are amazing. We are amazing creatures, and we keep the world going. Even the women who didn’t work in industry, but what they did from their homes amazes me—from sewing uniforms to providing food and running the schools.”

Following in the footsteps of the strong women she reads about, Watts has dedicated her entire career to taking care of her students.

Her responsibilities change daily based on what her students and their families need, but her assistance doesn’t stop at the end of the school day. If students are looking for a job, Watts helps them along the way—from filling out applications to getting them clothes for the interview and job. Some of the clothing donations come from local organizations like Neediest Kids of All, Cares Closet and Charity’s Guild.

While Watts does all she can for her students, she recognizes that there is also a community of people in the school system.

“Actually, our administrative team and staff are excellent with helping me,” Watts says. “Everyone is invested in paying attention to students like, ‘Hey, so-and-so has had the same pair of pants on three days in a row.’ I work well with all of those people. I love working at Newport. It’s a huge family. They especially care about the students. Not just their academics, but their home lives as well.”

About This Article

Lizzie Kibler
Lizzie Kibler ('16)
Contributor. NKU Magazine
Published March 2021
Photography by Scott Beseler

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