Kentucky Army National Guard Lt. Sam Whitehead is on assignment in Washington D.C., where, since the January attack on the U.S. Capitol, he has been on duty nearly round the clock.
With the permission of his commanders, platoon leader Whitehead said he periodically steps away from protecting “lives and property” to remotely teach his math students at Morehead’s Rowan County High School.
The simultaneous roles put him in a unique position. Whitehead and Kentucky Guard officials aren’t aware of any other public school educator in the state teaching virtually while on active duty in the National Guard in Washington. Whitehead said the National Guard is supportive of public education and Rowan County Schools supports his mission with the National Guard.
“I’m available 24-7 for both,” he said. “I’ll take late emails from students or I’ll get calls from soldiers or from my chain of command. Things just need my attention from both and it’s around the clock.”
“I just handle it as it comes,” he said.
“Rowan County Schools, I think they recognize the importance of what we’re doing up here and they’re very supportive of it,” Whitehead said. “The National Guard, my chain of command, they know what I do back home is very important too. It’s both of them understanding how important the other is.”
The Kentucky National Guard has been asked to continue supporting federal law enforcement agencies with security, communications, medical evacuation, logistics, and safety through mid-May in the aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
“I have a duty to my community back home,” Whitehead said of his job as a public school teacher. “I have a duty to my country and my state.”
Whitehead teaches a dual high school-college credit class virtually, providing the materials in an online format and monitoring his students progress. Students email or text him with questions “and I’ll make a little video …and explain it and send it right back to them.”
“It’s actually a lot smoother than you’d think,” he said. “It helps me stay connected with everyone back home and we can continue to work together to put students first.”
Courses are also taught in his classroom face to face while he’s in Washington, with Whitehead relying on substitute teacher Terry Chin, a retired math instructor.
Whitehead said he provides backup for Chin, “by giving him the resources needed to keep the classes moving forward.”
Whitehead said he was giving a quiz last week, when his senior students asked him, “Are you coming home soon?”
Whitehead couldn’t give them a timeline, but he said, “I should be able to see them before they graduate.”
“I have to give a lot of credit to the students,” Whitehead said. “I think they handle this (remote learning) way better than I would have at their age.”
Whitehead is being praised by state officials, National Guard leaders and educators for tackling two challenging jobs simultaneously.
Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said Whitehead “is a wonderful example of the impact teachers can have on the lives of their students, even beyond the classroom walls. Our kids are lucky to have a real life example of what it means to serve.”
“It absolutely highlights the fact that he’s a citizen soldier,” said National Guard Captain James Hatch.
“The time that he takes away from his family, away from the school but (is) still able to …teach …it highlights his character. He’s an outstanding soldier. We think the world of him,” said Hatch.
Whitehead, 35, and his wife Sarah have two daughters Hannah, 2, and Savannah, 9 months.
“We are extremely proud of Mr. Whitehead’s service to our country and his dedication to the students of Rowan County,” said Superintendent of Rowan County Schools John Maxey. “He is a true role model and shining example for the military.”
Allison Slone, a fellow teacher in Rowan County Schools and a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, said Whitehead is dedicated to both his careers, “but most of all he is dedicated to his students.”
(c) 2021 the Lexington Herald-Leader
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