Indian Springs High School teacher Joe Kelly gets a bit emotional talking about one of his former students. “I get teary-eyed thinking about Kimberly graduating,” he says of Kimberly Rios-Hernandez ’20, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Redlands in April. “She’s a great student and will do great things in life.”
Kelly, who earned both a B.A. in history and a master’s in educational administration from the University, is as proud of the 20 or so other students he taught who are currently enrolled at the U of R. As a college and career resource teacher and former coordinator of Advancement Via Individual Determination (commonly known as AVID), he guides students of all backgrounds toward higher education. “This fall, another six of my students will be going to Redlands,” he says.
There’s an argument to be made that Kelly has inspired so many students to attend college because it’s his job. “Well, it’s my job for a reason,” he says. For Kelly himself, finding Redlands was a turning point. “The first university I went to wasn’t right for me, and I didn’t do very well there,” he says. “Then, I ended up at Redlands, and everything clicked.”
He shares his bumpy collegiate start with his high school students, who live in San Bernardino: “We talk a lot about how to find the school that is a good fit for who you are as an individual.” This is particularly important, he adds, because so many of the students at Indian Springs will be the first in their families to attend college.
As a first-generation college-bound student, in high school Rios-Hernandez had the talent and ambition to go to college, but she felt she needed guidance: “Mr. Kelly is the reason I’m at Redlands. He was always looking out for us. He made sure we got our application-fee waivers and helped us with the financial aid forms. We had no excuse not to take the SATs. He really went above and beyond for all of us.”
Several of Kelly’s Redlands students over the last several years, including Rios-Hernandez, are recipients of the Annexstad Family Foundation Leaders for Tomorrow Scholarship, a program that financially supports deserving students at select universities. Due to this scholarship, Rios-Hernandez, who earned her degree in psychology and plans to enter the medical field, graduated without college debt.
“When I got my award letter,” she says of her senior year in high school,” I showed it to Mr. Kelly, and he was so excited for me.”
Rios-Hernandez recalls that Kelly is known for saying, “if you don’t play, you don’t win” about applying for admission and scholarships.
After being accepted and registering at Redlands, Rios-Hernandez and fellow Indian Springs High School graduate Peter Rubalcava ’20, a biochemistry major, met with Kelly, who wanted to make sure they were ready and helped them pick their first-year seminar classes.
Kelly still keeps in touch. He recently attended an art exhibit featuring former student Isaac Rodriguez ’22 (also an Annexstad Scholarship recipient), and he sees other former students at football games, where he is an ever-present fan. (Kelly served on the U of R football coaching staff for about nine years.) “I’m very proud to have introduced students to Redlands,” he says.
Rios-Hernandez thinks that Kelly’s introduction changed her life: “I like to say that the University spoils us. There was so much that Redlands gave me—I met a lot of great people and had a lot of great professors. I’m very grateful.”