When it is time to study the unit on outbreaks in her Biomedical Science classes, McHenry High School Instructor Samantha Donelson figures everyone will have plenty of personal experience from which to draw. That includes Donelson herself who made the switch from a career in health care to teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her interest and passion for the medical field make her excited about teaching the next generation of health care workers. And her students have been benefiting from that passion.
Donelson, who is in her second year in McHenry, was named Staff Member of the Month for November.
“She adapts to how everyone learns and provides extra resources for students who do not understand the material,” said sophomore Alexandra Everhart, one of three students to nominate Donelson. “She makes learning fun, adding in jokes on how to remember things, or just having a great expression to what she was teaching in general.”
For Donelson, who said the award was a nice surprise, her inspiration as an educator comes from hearing her students talk about careers in medicine, and from her own children who watched her transform her career.
“When I hear, ‘I’m going to be a cardiac surgeon,’ – that’s amazing,” she said. “I just try to be better tomorrow than I was today.”
Donelson, a Crystal Lake native, started out with a plan to go into the health care field herself. After earning a bachelor’s degree in science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she became a medical assistant with the plan to be a physician assistant.
Then, after taking some time off to raise her three children, Donelson decided to pursue her master’s in education with the plan of becoming a high school teacher. She said friends suggested she consider teaching.
Donelson credits her own children for supporting her plan to become a teacher, and for inspiring her to do her best. “ ‘Don’t stop until you are proud’ is what I keep telling my kids,” she said.
Launching her new career during a worldwide pandemic has been interesting. She did her student teaching at Barrington High School in early 2020 then came to the former West Campus with the start of the 2020-21 school year. At West, she taught Chemistry, Forensics, Biomedical Science and Biology.
With the start of the Freshman Campus in 2021-22, she’s focusing on Biomedical Science with 9th-graders. Dealing with COVID-19 has given her students a real-life look at health care on a daily basis.
“They’re taking their experiences and they can apply them,” she said. “It’s like a free learning activity.”
The Staff Member of the Month program recognizes MCHS staff members who go above and beyond for the benefit of students. Thanks to the support from Meat and Potato Eatery and Brunch Cafe, each monthly winner receives a gift certificate as well as a plaque.