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Kansas Wesleyan University

Basketball is a way of life for Shelby Heim. A talented shooting guard, Heim grew up in the small northwest Kansas town of Hoxie and went on to earn a basketball scholarship to Kansas Wesleyan University.

But starting in high school, a deeper message began to shape her view of sports and community. She experienced the support of her community in high school when the whole town would attend sporting events. Then her high school basketball coach took the idea of sports and service a step further by creating a summer camp for kids that involved her whole basketball team.

“I loved working with those kids — helping them learn to dribble and pass,” Heim explains. “And then during halftime (of the high school games), they’d come out and showcase their skills with the whole town cheering them on.”

Heim learned a powerful lesson from the experience: “I saw how much the kids looked up to us. I was more than just an athlete to them — I was setting a standard and helping them see they could be whatever they wanted to be.”

In her senior year of high school, Heim began looking at colleges. When she visited the KWU campus, she felt a familiar sense of community spirit. “KWU felt just like Hoxie to me. Everyone knew each other and cared about each other,” Heim explains. “I applied and got in — and then got the scholarship to play basketball. It was awesome.”

To her delight, the head coach of the KWU women’s basketball team had a similar approach to the game and community as her high school coach. A former elementary school teacher, Coach Ryan Showman partnered with a local Salina school and took the team on regular visits to work with the children.

“We’d spend time with the kids, helping with reading or fire drills, and we’d attend their events,” explains Heim. “And through that, I saw education and community again, first hand.”

Heim’s time working with children, and her coach’s example, inspired her to major in education. The small class sizes at KWU ensured lots of one-on-one time with faculty. Her professors, guest lecturers and student teaching brought teaching to life and gave Heim both the theory and practical insights she’d need in the classroom. Heim started gaining experience in the classroom with her first Teacher Education course. By the time she graduated, she had already spent 125 hours in the classroom.

In her senior year, Heim attended a job fair and left with a job possibility in the Ness City School District. Today, she lives in Ness City, a small town north of Dodge City, where she teaches second grade.

“I just finished my second year teaching and loved it,” Heim says. “I learned so much — what makes kids tick and how to teach in ways that work best for them. For example, some kids just can’t sit still, so we’d throw a football back and forth as we did math problems. It worked!”

Heim was welcomed into Ness City and found it much like her hometown and KWU — close-knit and supportive. And, as with her work with kids in high school and college, she is energized by helping children with both textbook and life lessons.

“Education is so important in a small town,” Heim says. “We might not have as many options as a bigger town, but what we have is incredible support. We give our students a view into the world. We show them that they can be whomever they want to be. And because of technology, they can do this in a small town. They don’t have to move away and give up what makes small towns so special.”