What’s Your Game Plan for Success?

Every day, teachers in classrooms across the country face difficult challenges, and many of them rise to face those challenges and help kids succeed.

They help their students aim high, coach them to listen and practice, and teach their students the value of testing themselves.


But what separates an exceptional teacher from a less than exceptional one is simple: they have a game plan for success.


We’re excited to continue the Game Plan for Success initiative as we look to partner with successful teachers who will amplify their voices through partnerships with athletes, and share a product that will benefit other educators and their students – all as part of the Game Plan for Success Aim High Fellowship.

Aim High’s Partner Athletes


Matthew Slater is a wide receiver for the New England Patriots. Slater is a special teams captain and has been selected play in the Pro Bowl six consecutive times. Before joining the Patriots in 2008, Slater attended the University of California, Los Angeles where he majored in political science and history.


Rocket Ismail was a record breaking wide receiver from 1993-2001 playing for the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. He attended college at the University of Notre Dame where he played football and dominated in track and field. Following his NFL career, he has appeared frequently on ESPN “College Game Day”


Charlie Blackmon is the Center Fielder for the Colorado Rockies. In 2017 he led his league in hits (42) and triples (five), was second in batting average (.359), fourth in runs scored (24), tied for fifth in RBI (22), and tied for seventh with a 1.037 on-base plus slugging (OPS).


Vinny Castilla is a former third baseman with the Colorado Rockies. As of 2017 he is the all-time home run leader among Mexican-born players (320). He won three Silver Slugger Awards (’95, ’97 and ’98) and was selected twice to the All Star Game. He continues coaching with the Rockies.


Brett Kern is a punter for the Tennessee Titans. While at the University of Toledo, Kern played 47 games, punting 189 times for 7,994 yards with 59 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. While playing college ball he also earned a bachelor’s degree in geography and posted a 3.38 grade point average while earning CoSIDA second-team academic all-district recognition as a senior.

Aim High’s Partner Teachers


Arcelia (Liz) Guillermo-Rios is a fifth-grade dual language teacher at Desert Trail Elementary School in Chaparral, New Mexico. She is the 2016 National Association for Bilingual Education Teacher of the Year and has won the Henry W. Pascual Teacher Excellence in Bilingual Education Award. She currently is a member of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network.


Christina Balkaran teaches 6th grade math in a full inclusion classroom at the Henderson K-12 Inclusion School in Dorchester, MA. She serves as the Math Department Facilitator of her school, where she coordinates professional development and partners with the secondary math team to design and implement accessible curriculum for students of all abilities. In 2016, she served as a Zeroing In on Math Teacher Leader and adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, leading a group of teachers toward a deeper understanding of the implementation of cognitively demanding math tasks. Christina graduated from Connecticut College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics in 2012 and received a Master of Education in secondary mathematics from Lesley University in 2014.


Jennifer Henderson has taught in the Aurora Public Schools in Colorado for 21 years. She currently teaches eighth grade Literacy at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy. She earned a teaching degree from the University of Wyoming and a Master’s in Linguistically Diverse Learners from the University of Colorado at Denver. She has a passion for helping students become life-long readers and writers, but more importantly, she wants them to find their own passions and learn the skills necessary to live those passions. Jennifer is a VCO for the Center for Teaching Quality, has served as a Colorado Ed Voice Fellow, and is also a member of the Colorado Core Advocates. Jennifer participated in the Denver Writing Project and has written articles for their newsletter as well as for the Center for Teaching Quality website.


Kerri Newsom teaches kindergarten at Dyersburg Primary School in Tennessee. She has extensive experience partnering with the TN Department of Education, where she has served on the K-5 English language arts standards review committee, the Tennessee Teacher Advisory Council, the Early Literacy Council, and has and worked as a Core Coach. She has also served as a TN SCORE fellow and was a 2015 finalist for Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Growing up in a family of educators influenced her desire to become an educator.