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New Teachers Join Junior High Staff
Oakdale High School alum Dave Schmitt, left and corporate dynamo turned teacher, Melody Higgins are two of the newest Rams at Oakdale Junior High. Schmitt joined the staff this year as SDC teacher while Higgins brings her education and experience to the Mathematics classroom. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

Incoming seventh grade students are not the only ones new to the Oakdale Junior High School halls this 2015-16 school year. This summer as the students were busy shopping for back to school essentials, Melody Higgins and Dave Schmitt were equally busy preparing their classrooms as newly appointed teaching staff for the OJUSD.

Schmitt has toured these halls once before as an OJHS student and later an Oakdale High School attendee; he is a Mustang alum. While the campus has changed a bit since his attendance the focus remains the same, to educate and prepare the students for the transition to high school.

Now on the campus as the Special Day Class (SDC) teacher, Schmitt is able to touch lives as administrators on this campus once did his.

“Growing up in Oakdale and being surrounded by families that are involved in their community and care about their children’s success,” Schmitt said of his inspiration to pursue teaching.

This school year marks his second year as an educator. Year one for him was spent at Turlock Junior High as a Resource Specialist.

“This year I am happy to be working at Oakdale Junior High in the SDC Classroom,” he said.

In contrast to her colleague, Higgins, found her way to teaching via the corporate world.

“I was at Aspire’s Vanguard College Preparatory Academy in Empire, where I taught both middle and high school math,” the new OJHS math teacher said of her experience the past three years. “Prior to becoming a teacher I spent 25 years in the corporate world, mostly in IT.

“It was a passion for teaching and desire to make a bigger difference in this community that led me to changing careers. I’ve never looked back.”

Both teachers shared their feelings of passion for making a difference in a student’s life, be it working through challenges or empowering them with belief in themselves.

“The most challenging part is seeing kids feeling defeated and not being able to instill the confidence in them I wish they had,” Higgins said of the pre-teen and early teen group. “Some outside influences are outside of our control and it’s heartbreaking.”

“The most rewarding is watching a student’s “lightbulb” go off,” Schmitt stated. “Their faces light up when they finally figure out the answer to a problem they have been struggling with.”

“They enrich my life in ways they’ll never know,” Higgins added, “even if they think it’s me that enriches theirs.”

Outside of the classroom, both teachers spend much of their free time surrounded by family and living an active lifestyle.

And while each might teach subjects of a different nature, their answers to one simple question, indicate a proper fit to both the SDC and Mathematics classrooms. The question was brief, to describe themselves in one word and why?

“Committed,” Higgins said. “I believe in committing to your belief; to commit dictates so many other facets in life that make a person good, including traits like honesty, perseverance and humility.”

For Schmitt it’s one simple, self-explanatory word.

“Awesome,” he stated.

When pressed for further explanation, the SDC teacher broke it down.

“Today I created three levels of lesson plans for math: enrichment, basic and remedial,” he said. “Dealt with a disruptive student, created lesson plans for our two period blocked English class and had a site walk through. All before 10 a.m. – and all done with a smile on my face.”