Kedrick Nettleton

Jermaine Watkins (‘08), 2022’s Young Alumnus Award winner, has been living life on a school schedule for almost his entire life, and he’s just fine with that. He’s working each day to engage with youth at Monroe Demonstration Academy, North Tulsa’s only junior high school. If you ask him now, Watkins’ pathway to Monroe seems like a natural progression, and even though there have been twists and turns, confusions and frustrations, God’s hand has been evident at each step of the process.

Watkins grew up in Tulsa, and from an early age, sports was an important focus for him. “I always tell people that I knew early on that I wanted to be a coach and a teacher,” he said. “I grew up in a neighborhood with probably 20 to 30 plus kids, and we were always playing sports in my backyard. I would find myself naturally coaching kids, teaching kids how to do [certain] things.”

His main sport was baseball, and he ended up pursuing it all the way to college. But after a few years playing at the junior college level and then at a small Division I school in Texas, Watkins was ready for a change, and one of his old roommates had the solution: why not transfer to a small Christian school in Bartlesville, Oklahoma? It was the right call.

“I just wanted to get back closer to home. The experience wasn’t very good in Texas,” he said. “Closer to home, to family, to friends, and closer to God.”

At first, living life within the strictures of Oklahoma Wesleyan was a big adjustment, especially after coming from the DI environment he’d been a part of in Texas. The size of the school was different, the attitudes of his coaches and teammates were different, and the curriculum was different—although it was this last aspect that made the biggest impact on Watkins’ life.

“Having all your classes infused with the Word, with the Bible, that was an adjustment,” he said. “Spiritually, it just got me refocused. I had made some decisions, done some things that were uncharacteristic to me, having grown up in the church. I had kind of lost sight. So I was able to refocus when I transferred in.”

Watkins’ experience in the education program also proved vital, specifically referencing the department’s commitment to student teaching. “When I started teaching, I was ready. And I know that the education program made an impact in that area, since we were out there so much with the teachers and the students… when I got OKWU, and I was getting those field experiences, it was like, this is what I’m meant to do.”

Changing Culture

After graduating in 2008, Watkins spent 13 years teaching elementary P.E., experiencing several consolidations and closures in various schools in Tulsa. “While I was on the elementary side of things, I moved three times with the same kids,” he said.

When the position of Dean of Climate and Culture at Monroe became available, Watkins felt like the fit was right. It also gave him the opportunity to stay with students he’d been teaching since kindergarten.

“I was able to move with the same kids that I’ve taught for four years,” he said. “For the last 13 years, I’ve been with these families. I’ve been with these kids, the kids that came to Gilcrease as kindergartners, and they’re now in the sixth grade with me. It’s been pretty cool; we’re kind of learning it all together this year.”

Monroe is North Tulsa’s only junior high school, and this is one of the reasons that Watkins was so attracted to the position. “[It] has a lot to offer. We have over 800 kids, a lot of programming, and a really good administration,” he said.

The day to day can be a grind, as the students he works with often come in with challenging situations. “I’m dealing with 11, 12, 13-year-olds, and some of them make poor choices. There are a lot of counseling sessions in my office, handling discipline. No day ever looks alike,” he said. “You just never know what you’re going to encounter when you come in, because we’re working with kids with trauma. They bring that trauma to the school, so you just never know what’s going to happen.”

The unique situations that the students come from can present another challenge, too: low expectations from the outside. This is one of Watkins’ biggest pet peeves. “Sometimes, I just get frustrated at the narrative that is placed on kids in North Tulsa,” he said. “[The narrative is] that they can’t achieve and do great things.”

Still, the passion and excitement that he has is contagious, and he’s grateful for the work. “It’s a God-given grace. I never consider this a job; it’s the work that God has called me to do. I’m just walking in that right now.”

Success has followed has followed him. Through numerous programs, Watkins has worked to meet the practical, psychological, and spiritual needs of his students. One particularly rewarding partnership has been with his church, Covenant Family Church, which has worked with him to be a presence at Monroe, incorporating the Gospel message into his daily routine. His family pitches in, too.

“My dad and my pastor actually come up and they’re hall monitors for me every single morning,” Watkins said. “My mom comes and helps do lunch duty. I have some church members that are reading buddies with kids.”

There’s no doubt that it’s a challenging job, but Watkins wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s not planning on changing careers any time soon, either.

“In the future, I see myself doing the same thing,” he said. “Who knows, I might be a principal someday. But right now, I’m content with where I am, because I know this is where I’m supposed to be. This is where God has called me to be, and I’m just walking in my grace right now.”

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