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LRAFB key spouse named Arkansas Teacher of the Year

A woman poses for a photo with an award

Jessica Saum, Stagecoach Elementary School special education teacher, is named the 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year during a pep rally in Cabot, Arkansas, Oct. 13, 2021. Saum’s one-year tenure as Arkansas Teacher of the Year will begin July 1, 2022, when she will travel the state as a representative for teachers and will serve as a non-voting member on the State Board of Education. (Courtesy photo)

A family poses for a photo

Jessica Saum, Stagecoach Elementary School special education teacher, poses with her family after being named the 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year during a pep rally in Cabot, Arkansas, Oct. 13, 2021. Saum’s parents had flown in from South Carolina to be there and her husband, Lt. Col. Shane Saum, also recorded a special video for the ceremony since he is currently on a one year unaccompanied assignment to Lajes Field, Azores, as the 65th Air Base Squadron commander. (Courtesy photo)

A woman views a video message

Lt. Col. Shane Saum, 65th Air Base Squadron commander, Lajes Field, Azores, video calls into a pep rally as his wife Jessica Saum, Stagecoach Elementary School special education teacher, is named the 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year in Cabot, Arkansas, Oct. 13, 2021. Saum is currently on a one year unaccompanied assignment in Portugal and recorded a special video which played during the pep rally. (Courtesy photo)

Students hold up photos of their teacher

Stagecoach Elementary School students hold up photos of Jessica Saum, a Stagecoach Elementary School special education teacher, as she is named the 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year during a pep rally in Cabot, Arkansas, Oct. 13, 2021. As a military spouse, Saum also utilizes her unique perspective to advocate for military families, both in her teaching position and as a key spouse at Little Rock Air Force Base. (Courtesy photo)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Jessica Saum is a mom, a special education teacher, and a military spouse who went to work expecting just another normal day at school.

She knew students and staff had gathered in the Panther Arena at the Stagecoach Elementary School in Cabot, Arkansas, for a reading pep rally. What she didn't know was she was also about to be announced as the 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year during a surprise celebration.

“The pep rally seemed a little suspicious, but I couldn’t accept that was really what was going to happen,” Saum said.

Saum’s parents had flown in from South Carolina to be there and her husband, Lt. Col. Shane Saum, also recorded a special video for the ceremony since he is currently on a one year unaccompanied assignment to Lajes Field, Azores, as the 65th Air Base Squadron commander.

“Those two parts of the ceremony were such a surprise and the most meaningful,” Saum said. “To not have my husband Shane in attendance was really difficult, but his part of the ceremony was my favorite.”

Her children were also in attendance along with Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key, who thanked Saum for all of her contributions and commitment to the community.

“I am humbled and honored each year to be part of an amazing event that recognizes an outstanding teacher such as Mrs. Saum,” Key said. “It always brings me joy to see a teacher receive the much-deserved recognition that is long overdue. I commend Ms. Saum not only for her dedication to her students and community, but also for her sacrifice and service as the spouse of a military service [member].”

The past few years have been some of the most challenging and unique for educators struggling to adapt to the new norms of teaching and learning during COVID-19, explained Saum. But the challenge also provided her with the opportunity to think outside the box and continue to ensure her students’ social and emotional needs were met.

“There are so many benefits to experiences outside of the classroom and I worked to bring those to the school either virtually or outside, so students could still have unique and impactful experiences,” she said.

Some of these experiences included: partnering with the 62d Airlift Squadron for a virtual C-130 Hercules field trip; partnering with Ballet Arkansas to have a Sugar Plum Fairy ballerina read “The Nutcracker” live via Zoom, and partnering with the Kiwanis Kids Club to repurpose an outdoor space into a garden and outdoor classroom.

Saum said she enjoys being challenged to continue learning, growing, and changing in order to meet the continued diverse needs of her students.

“I love teaching because I love knowing that no matter what a student is facing at home or outside of the classroom, when they are in my class they know they are loved, they are safe and they are valued,” Saum said. “I love teaching because together we experience real life, we gain exposure to new and meaningful experiences, and we share in authentic learning.” 

While teaching special education, Saum explained she is able to see where she truly makes an impact.

“Teaching special education is not a job that you just fall into, it's a passion you pursue,” Saum said. “I truly feel like it’s a calling and that teaching exceptional learners is what I was meant to do. I get to work to empower students to be advocates for themselves, I get to equip them with the skills they need to be successful and help them reach their fullest potential.” 

As a military spouse, Saum also utilizes her unique perspective to advocate for military families, both in her teaching position and as a key spouse at Little Rock Air Force Base. Saum was also recognized as the 2020 314th Airlift Wing’s Key Spouse of the Year for her volunteer work.

“Being a military spouse and a mom to children impacted deeply by their father's military service [means] volunteering in this capacity is woven into who I am,” Saum said. “I have been able to serve as a key spouse at various assignments and squadrons throughout my husband's career and I have seen where spouses need varying degrees of support and connection. I will always have a drive to work with military connected families and I plan to advocate for them extensively while serving as the Arkansas Teacher of the Year and beyond.”

Saum’s one-year tenure as Arkansas Teacher of the Year will begin July 1, 2022, when she will travel the state as a representative for teachers and will serve as a non-voting member on the State Board of Education.

“One of my biggest goals is to elevate the voices of military families, especially when it comes to the challenges we face in the area of education,” Saum said. “I was recently appointed as a Special Advisor to the Arkansas Council for Military Children and I am excited to grow my voice for military students and their families navigating educational needs during difficult transitions. I am also hoping for the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jill Biden about the Joining Forces Initiative and contributing to the discussion about how to best support our military children as well as continuing the work being done to address military spouses under unemployment.”

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