George Mason University alumna Amanda Smialek was teaching her fourth-grade students at John D. Jenkins Elementary School in Woodbridge, Virginia, when the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol began. Smialek, a member of the 113th Medical Group with the Washington, D.C., Air National Guard, was called up the next day.
Smialek, a single mother of one daughter, has been juggling parenting, teaching or going to school and her work as an Air National Guard medic for a while. In the past, juggling meant being gone from her daughter a weekend every month. But since her unit got called up, she’s been balancing teaching and helping the troops guarding the Capitol.
Initially, Smialek was working the night shift at the Capitol, and teaching during the day. Lately, she’s been working weekends with her National Guard unit and teaching her students virtually most weekdays.
“It’s hard. But my school has been very helpful so that I can continue to do my service and teach my students,” she said, including assistance from a student teacher for her classes.
As a medical technician, Smialek has been helping provide the troops at the Capitol with medical transport and attending to their medical needs, including coronavirus vaccinations and screening.
Seeing her National Guard work is a valuable opportunity for her students, she said.
“By watching me, I think students are learning the importance of service to each other and the community,” she said. “They are learning that sometimes we are doing things that are much greater than ourselves.”
Smialek, who earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Mason, is still astounded by what she saw the first night she was at the Capitol after the insurrection. She ended up inside the rotunda, observing the destruction left behind.
“I saw broken windows, gunshot holes,” said Smialek.
She remembers looking at the paintings in the rotunda and thinking about how they represented so much of the Virginia studies lessons she’d been preparing for her students.
“I was looking at the vandalism, and also looking at the beauty, the architecture and the history,” she said. “It was surreal.”
Smialek grew up as a military dependent, graduating from Forest Park High School in Woodbridge in 2007. Initially, she joined the Air Force and became a medical technician. She left active duty in 2014 but wasn’t “fully ready to let go” of her connection with the military community, so she enlisted in the D.C. Air National Guard.
Smialek started at Northern Virginia Community College and then went on to Mason through the ADVANCE Program. She received her undergraduate degree in integrative studies and her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in 2019.
Smialek said she chose teaching because she comes from a long line of educators.
“I was volunteering at my daughter’s school, and I just felt at home,” said Smialek. “I felt the joy, and I knew that teaching was what I was supposed to be doing.”
Audra Parker, academic program coordinator of the College of Education and Human Development’s Elementary Education PK-6 program, said that the elementary education faculty are “so proud of Amanda’s double duty as both a classroom teacher and National Guard service member.
“It takes incredible dedication to balance both, but we are not at all surprised to see Amanda navigating these challenges with energy, positivity, and enthusiasm,” said Parker. “She represents the best of Mason elementary education graduates.”