Samantha Vanvalkenburg and Working With the Students of E.O. Smith

By Alex Phelps

Becoming a teacher is one of the most difficult things to do because of what it involves. You have the responsibility to teach the next generation and learning how to do that well is no easy feat. This is the challenge that Samantha Vanvalkenburg is currently facing. Samantha recently finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Connecticut and is currently working on her graduate degree. Samantha is one of many people who have found themselves working on becoming a teacher at a time where it became even more difficult than usual due to the pandemic occurring at the end of her undergrad program. As anyone who has done it would tell you, student teaching is already a difficult learning process. So, having to do this in a time where you can not even be in the classroom with the students brings that to a whole new level of difficulty. Despite these difficulties Samantha was able to graduate and move on to the next phase of becoming a teacher.  

This year Samantha has found herself working with the students of E. O. Smith under the guidance of Amy Nocton, a teacher at the high school. As the pandemic situation has improved since when Samantha was working on her undergrad, she is able to do this in person. Specifically Samantha is working with a group of students in a program called Deliberations and Discourse (DD). In this program, the students are encouraged to work on their own projects that are fulfilling to them. Samantha has been working with these students on a variety of different and unique projects including, podcasts, public forums and presentations at conferences. Samantha said that the group is all about having conversations and finding meaning behind the conversations. The students are the ones at the center of these conversations and they get to make the decision for what they want to do and how they want to use the resources that the organization provides them. Samantha believes that this is a great program because the students are not being told what to do, but are allowed to pursue what they think is interesting. She wishes that it was something that happened more in the classroom because of how important she believes the autonomy of the students is.

One of the groups that Samantha is involved with is the podcasting group. Their goal is to create podcasts that will eventually be submitted to NPR podcast competition. Samantha makes plans for the activities and works with the students on their podcasts and supports their goals. For example, if the students want to talk to someone with podcasting experience, Samantha will help them find someone who has that experience. In this way Samantha is supporting and furthering the goals of the students. As the task of creating a podcast worthy of submitting to an organization such as NPR can be daunting, Samantha is there to help facilitate the conversations that will help the students figure out what kind of stories are compelling to listen to. She said that one of the struggles is how to find a story that can be compelling in an audio only format. Topics that students brought up have included, transgender rights, agism and little known historical figures. The students have many interesting and unique ideas and Samantha believes that they are capable of doing so much on their own.

Samantha describes the experience working with the students in DD as thrilling. While it is not always perfect and sometimes the students are not always on their A game, once the meetings get going they are always impressed with what the students come up with. She really enjoys her experience working with her advisor, Amy Nocton, who is in charge DD and her fellow intern Vanessa. Samantha believes that this is the best experience working with students so far and looks forward to the rest of her time working with DD.