Kathleen Norris – Youth Education Series Facilitator
By: Kyle Kaminski
Throughout the year, thousands of students from across the country, ranging from ages six to 18, visit Walt Disney Parks and Resorts as part of Disney’s Youth Education Series (YES). This field trip-type experience enables students to receive hands-on training and see real-life applications of knowledge using popular Disney stories and attractions. El Paso-born and bred education major, Kathleen Norris, joined the YES team this semester, thus fulfilling her dream of someday teaching at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Flash back to 2008: Kathleen was a College Program participant working as a lifeguard at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Interestingly enough, it was during her program that life took a turn for the best. Early on, Kathleen was chosen to cross-train as a children’s activity leader, and that’s when she realized that she really enjoyed working with and teaching children. In Kathleen’s own words, “I was originally a Public Relations major, until I was pulled to help with children’s activities. I realized how much passion I had for working with kids, so much, that I switched my major to education.” After her program, Kathleen attended Texas State University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in history with a Teaching Certification. While finishing her schooling, Kathleen became a campus representative at her university, and it was during this experience that she learned about the YES program.
“We had a meet and greet with campus representatives from different universities in the area, and I heard a girl talking about how she had just finished a YES internship,” explained Kathleen. She was surprised to learn there were internships for educators available at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and realized it was exactly what she wanted to do.
Low and behold, though…there was a catch. YES only offers internships in the spring, so Kathleen was required to find an internship for the fall. To fulfill this requirement, she worked in Guest Relations at Epcot which she really enjoyed.
Adding to the intricacy of the YES internship is the application process itself. “They require an audition in order to be considered for the role,” she explains. “During the audition, you are given three to five minutes to teach the panel. You don’t just present slides and lecture; you have to actually teach. I taught them how to make a dog out of balloons.”
So what makes Disney’s education program so special? Kathleen says it’s the requirement that each intern knows how to integrate hands-on activities into their lesson plans. The YES program is set up so that you have to actually engage the students to learn, as opposed to simply listen to a lecture.
As part of the internship, each intern receives three classes to teach that are each three hours in length. Kathleen’s programs are: Properties of Motion, Energy and Waves and Millennium Cultures. Here’s an example of how a class unfolds: During her Properties of Motion class, in order for students to better grasp the concept of the laws of physics, they ride Space Mountain, once with the lights on and then once with the lights off. Kathleen then works through a series of questions to help the students understand the laws using the experience they just had. “Our programs basically show students exactly what they learn in school, but with concepts that are easy to see and comprehend,” says Kathleen.
As a history major, Kathleen faced a few challenges when she was given physics and science courses to teach. She had to teach herself subjects she hadn’t used since high school but, although challenging, she has enjoyed regaining knowledge in an area opposite to her field of study. On top of re-learning science, this internship has re-shaped her teaching style. “My teaching style will be different moving forward,” she states. “Facilitating at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is a teaching style that requires educators to use a lot of student involvement.”
Kathleen is excited to see where she heads next after her internship and hopes to have a chance to support Guest Relations again in the future. Her advice to those interested in pursuing a Professional Internship is to network and take full advantage of all the leadership or networking opportunities offered.
“People probably get tired of being told to network, but it really is the most important thing you can do,” she explains. “If you can, apply for a campus representative role, and stay connected with The Walt Disney Company as much as possible.”
Fun Facts about Kathleen
Favorite theme park: Epcot
Favorite attraction: Mickey’s PhilharMagic
Favorite Song: “I see the light” from Tangled
Favorite movie: Sleeping Beauty
Favorite Disney snack: Cream cheese pretzels from either the American Pavilion or the Tomorrowland Launching Pad