Samantha Meyer | Planting Seeds of Learning in Alaska

April 23, 2024

“I am a military child,” Samantha says. Her father served in the armed forces and the family followed him as he moved to different posts in the U.S. and abroad. “We lived in Germany, Kansas, South Carolina, Minnesota and New York before coming to Alaska when I was 10 years old. My father kept applying to stay there,” and 20 years later, Samantha still calls Alaska home. For the past ten years, she has also served her country at the Denali Child Development Center, located on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where she works as a lead teacher.

Samantha’s career lets her combine her military background with an early interest in working with young children. “My grandma taught kindergarten,” Samantha says. “She was the kind of teacher who everyone loves.” And watching her made Samantha want to be that kind of teacher, too.

Samantha’s mom encouraged her to apply to be a teacher’s aide at the base, and she got the job. The center provided her with some initial training and then encouraged her to earn a Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™. The base paid for it because they want teaching staff to advance in their careers. And Samantha did. She climbed up the ranks to become a lead teacher after earning her bachelor’s degree. And the growth she experienced in her career made her aware of the value of her CDA®, so she’s now getting ready to renew it. “I used material from my portfolio in my college courses,” she says, “so the CDA helped me in both school and in my job.”

Her background as a military child has been useful, too, in helping the children adjust to a new setting and make new friends, as Samantha explains. “Some of the kids are shy, so I ask the parents if there is a comfort item, like a stuffed animal or family photo, that the children can bring from home. And we work with the children one-on-one until they feel more comfortable in the classroom. Fortunately, preschool children are resilient. Though they may miss their old friends, they’re ready to make new ones, and soon it’s like they’ve been here forever.”

And Samantha is especially good at helping children adjust to a new place because she enjoys a challenge. “I feel closest to the children who have behavior issues,” she says, “because I spend a lot of time getting to know them and learning to help them. When I succeed, I feel a sense of achievement.” And this approach helps her make headway with children when other teachers have failed.

For example, Samantha taught a five-year-old boy named John who was having a hard time in another classroom. “When they moved him to my classroom,” she recalls, “I realized that he was more advanced than the other kids and misbehaved because he was bored. Once I began to challenge John, his behavior in class improved, and his mom told me he was also behaving better at home,” Samantha says. And one of the keys to working with bright kids like John, as she’s learned, is having them mentor other children. “Helping his younger friends gave John the challenge he needed to stay engaged in class.”

So did all the effort and time that Samantha put into finding out what made John tick. And she also made progress with Billy Bob, a three-year-old who had misbehaved at another center. “His mom wanted to give him a fresh start, so she brought him to us,” Samantha recalls. She soon came to see that he became angry because he had trouble speaking and making himself understood. So, she helped his parents find the services Billy Bob needed to speak better. And by the time he left the center two years later, Billy Bob was speaking clearly.

His parents were grateful, and Samantha was glad to help because serving military parents is part of her mission at the base. “I talk to the parents and assist them in any way I can,” she says. “The military also provides a lot of great resources, including a life counselor who can help children and parents with the constant moves that many of them have to make.”

Some of the parents are military spouses who work at the center, Samantha explains. “That makes recruitment and retention a challenge, leading to waiting lists for spots.” So, the base is working to attract more staff by offering training and financial aid for education, which is now allowing Samantha to earn her master’s degree in education.

Staff at the center also receive free child care, a perk that means a lot to Samantha as the parent of a three-year-old daughter. “I enjoy being able to see her on breaks and being able to take a quick peek in the window of her classroom when I walk by,” Samantha says.

She also enjoys the diverse culture that surrounds her at work, as she explains. “Working in a military installation is special because of all the different people you meet who you might not encounter otherwise. I teach a child whose mom is from Bulgaria and another one whose mom is from China. I know people from North Dakota and Puerto Rico. Then there’s my best friend, who comes from Florida and sometimes complains about freezing here in Alaska, where it can be 15 below zero for weeks at a time.”

But the frigid cold doesn’t bother Amanda and she’s happy to call Alaska home. “It’s very beautiful in the summer and the center is set up to help the children let off some steam when it’s too cold to play outside. We have a big gross motor room with bikes, balls and plenty of space for the children to run around.”

Watching them while happy at play warms Samantha’s heart and inspires her to grow in her career even more. “My mission is to serve military members and their children, and I’d like to advance it by becoming a trainer at the center,” Samantha explains. She’s committed to helping other teachers become more skilled since she believes in an old military saying: “Military children are like dandelions because they can grow wherever they’re planted.” When the children have teachers like Samantha, that’s true. She knows how to plant the seeds of learning that help young children bloom.


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