Inside ECS – Jeff Miller, Elkhart Memorial

“Dream so big that people make fun of you.” If you’ve ever been to Jeff Miller’s office in the Elkhart Memorial media center, you’ve seen these words. As the internship coordinator and student activities director at Elkhart Memorial, they’re important words for students.

“Do you think people made fun of the Wright Brothers? Steve Jobs? I’m sure they did. No great accomplishment comes without stepping outside and taking challenges.”

An Elkhart native, Jeff was inspired to become a teacher through two of his educational role models – Coach Tom Kurth and Mrs. Eldridge. After his first semester at Indiana University, where he was studying to be a sports doctor, Jeff felt overwhelmed by the thought of a life-consuming career. Speaking to Coach Kurth helped him understand more about what he wanted to do with his life. Having two inspirational people help guide him to his career is something he brings to the table with his role at Elkhart Memorial.

“Mrs. Eldridge always told me that I could be more than a football player, and her voice always stuck with me. As a teacher, the payoff is when kids ask me for advice, and if I can be that voice for one of my students.”

After college, Jeff knew that if he was going to teach, he was going to do it in Elkhart. He felt drawn back to the community and people, and sees a great potential in what the Elkhart community can be.

Reaching out to the community is part of Jeff’s role, as he coordinates with businesses to place student interns. While PRIDE is a newly defined focus for the district, it’s something that his businesses always emphasize.

“The aspects of PRIDE are so intertwined with internships. The conversations with businesses are almost entirely around the words – persistence, respectfulness, initiative, dependability, and efficiency – they are characteristics that businesses want to see in their employees. Trying to demonstrate and communicate the importance of these things to students will always be a challenge, but we are all working together to help prepare our graduates to be career and college ready.”

Jeff never thought he’d be the person coordinating graduation, blood drives, dances, and pep rallies, but it’s a job he loves. He says it’s the support of students and other staff who make so many great Elkhart Memorial events possible.

“I had one student come to me last year on May 3 and want to do an event on May 4 for Star Wars [“May the 4th be with you”]. We couldn’t turn it around in a day, but later that month for the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, we coordinated a lightsaber battle. We had about 40 kids and it was a great time. It was a student’s idea and he ran with it. I just helped put the pieces in place.”

While not all of Jeff’s events are quite as epic as a lightsaber battle, he finds inspiration in some of the smaller moments that have stuck with him. One time, Jeff had a student-athlete overhear something he’d said to his son. His athlete mentioned that his own father had never said anything like that to him, and that Jeff was a really good dad. It’s tender moments like this that have stuck with Jeff throughout the years.

“The realization that we are so much more than teachers or coaches to these kids is so meaningful. To be able to show kids that we support them in all they do, that we are always here for them, it means the world to me. I’m so lucky and grateful to have this job and opportunity, working with great staff and great kids.”

Outside of Elkhart Memorial, where he is also a football coach, Jeff spends most of his time with his kids and their activities, which include football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, lacrosse, pageants, Premier Arts, and 4-H.

“I really want my kids to try lots of things, so they can find their passion. They’re young and they have no idea who they are. I want them to try things, figure it out, and then chase their passions with all their hearts,” said Jeff. “I mean, shouldn’t we all be doing that?”  

Jeff is currently reading: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, a book written by two retired Navy seals, about leaderships skills, servant leadership, and adapting to situations.