When COVID-19 shut down in-person learning, Samantha Hughes needed something to occupy her abundance of downtime.
She found it by enrolling in the Master of Education (M.Ed.), Curriculum & Instruction – Concentration in Elementary Education online program at the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) in June 2020.
"I am used to being busy," she said. "At that point, I had reached my limit. I got an email from ULM saying it was the last day to apply with no application fee.
"We have had visitors from ULM come and talk to us about the degree programs. I always said if I went back to school, it would be there."
Hughes is a school literacy interventionist at Chesbrough Elementary in Kentwood, Louisiana. When she contemplated the idea of returning to college, her principal, Dr. Roslyn Varnado, encouraged her to follow through. Her sister, Emily Dykes, who is working on her doctorate in counseling, also egged her on.
The flexibility of the online format came in handy as Hughes began her current role in September. She didn't miss a beat in the transition. She and her husband, Yancy, have two children — Joshua (13) and Charlie (5).
"I have been able to balance it," she said. "I try to stay ahead in my schoolwork because I like to stay busy. It has worked out for me.
"I like the fast pace of the classes. By the time you get tired of a class, you are on to another one. This program is my first time doing online classes."
Time on Her Side
Hughes is from Kentwood, but she spent 12 years in central Washington state as a child before coming home. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in special education from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2011.
"I always wanted to be a teacher," she said. "I don't remember ever wanting to do anything else. I was the kid who went home and played school over the weekend and over the summer. Even as an adult, I am the same way. I am ready to go back two weeks into summer."
Prior to accepting the school literacy interventionist position, Hughes was a fifth-grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher.
"I now work with teachers and parents to identify students in need of academic supports, implement interventions for students, and collect data," she said. "I am responsible for collecting the information and meeting with our student assistance team to determine if a student is making progress, is in need of 504 accommodations, or may need a special education evaluation.
"The position fit with my background. They also wanted that person to be able to dig in with our teachers and work on the ELA curriculum, which I have been thoroughly trained in."
Hughes was very eager when she enrolled at ULM, taking four courses at a time instead of the typical one or two. She has since dialed back and is on track to complete the program in July 2021.
"I have liked all of the courses in the program," she said. "I liked being a teacher and working with the students, but I find my niche to be the curriculum itself. I liked the curriculum classes and the teacher leader classes.
"A lot of what I learned has been applicable. Being forced to research and read about what is written about education these days has been fitting. Those opportunities really aren't presented to you when you're in the classroom."
Hughes has a strong support system from her family and friends as she completes the online M.Ed. C&I – Concentration in Elementary Education program. She hopes to walk the graduation stage if there is an in-person commencement ceremony.
"I have been trying to be a good role model for my teenage son and say, 'Look, mom has an assignment. She's doing homework.' He's getting more interested in me going to school. I'd like to be able to walk and for him to see that," Hughes said.
She knows that her career options will continue to blossom once she has a completed master's degree on her resume.
"I assumed I would always be a classroom teacher before this door opened," she said. "I didn't realize when I applied for the curriculum and instruction program how many options there are out there. There are a lot of different things I can do.
"It's been eye-opening. I was selected last year as a state teacher leader advisor for Louisiana. I've learned a lot through that program that I have been able to incorporate into school and vice versa. I'll have to see where things go."
For now, she is focused on completing the program and staying on top of her schoolwork, which she believes is paramount to being a successful online student.
"Organization and time management skills are important," she said. "I was always apprehensive about going back to school. Challenging yourself is important. This has been a good challenge."
Learn more about ULM's M.Ed. C&I – Concentration in Elementary Education online program.
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