School psychologist Samantha Hoggatt has many passions in life. She and her husband, Samuel (yes, they are both named Sam) like to camp, hike, snowshoe, and participate in a wide range of outdoor activities. She is currently training for the Coeur d’Alene Marathon and hopes to tackle the Ironman Triathlon when it comes back to North Idaho in 2021. Samantha also spends her summers working on a trail crew for the U.S. Forest Service. Tied up in all of that is the education work that drives and motivates her—helping children through her role as a psychologist at the Early Learning Center in Coeur d’Alene.
The Early Learning Center, or ELC, is a developmental preschool providing special education services for many of its students. The Center evaluates nearly 100 children a year between the ages of three and five to see if they qualify for services. “Each student has unique needs and finding what works for each one can be challenging,” says Hoggatt. “But when you have that ‘aha’ moment from collaborating with a classroom teacher to find the exact tool, plan, or strategy that helps a child’s learning or behavior, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Samantha had known from an early age that she wanted to work with kids, and a conversation with a school psychologist working with a school administrator friend of hers set her on a path to the work she now embraces. She enrolled in the school psychology program at Eastern Washington University and quickly found work in the Coeur d’Alene school district, where she has become a valuable resource and a big help for teachers and students at the Early Learning Center. “An important part of Sam’s work is to help students process problems and achieve goals, all while supporting the classroom instructor and the parents in the learning environment,” says Kim Ziegler, President of the Coeur d’Alene Education Association.
There is extensive research showing that early learning is critical for both general education students and those receiving special education services. Hoggatt sees that first-hand. “If children are exposed to academic tasks, classroom routines, and a language-rich environment from a young age, they are able to enter school ready to learn and grow,” she says. “And the earlier a child with disabilities receives interventions, the more likely they are to improve their abilities and learn new skills.”
Like many educators, Samantha has faced challenges in her work as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis. Connecting with and helping students receiving special education services is problematic within the confines of the soft closure of schools ordered by the State Board of Education to protect the health of students and educators. “Social-emotional and behavior skills are difficult to teach when you have limited to no interaction with the student,” she says. “These kiddos need the face to face interaction to build upon social skills with peers and learn how to control their behaviors within the school setting.”
Samantha is also passionate about her work with the Coeur d’Alene Education Association and the IEA. “I became involved because I wanted to support and stand with other educators across the state and have a voice in legislation,” Hoggatt says. She currently serves as the CEA Treasurer and represents Region 1 on the IEA Communications Team. “Her impact is far-reaching because she truly cares about teachers, children, and the education system,” says Ziegler.
A lifelong resident of the Inland Northwest who grew up in Newman Lake, WA, just three miles from the Idaho border, Samantha remembers hearing stories about students from her grandmother, who worked in the nutrition services department in the Lake Pend Oreille school district. She became the first member of her family to obtain a four-year degree from a university, earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Idaho. She had several teachers along the way who inspired and pushed her.
So, in many ways she has come full circle, providing the same kind of inspiration, direction, and compassion for the students she works with at the Early Learning Center. “It is amazing to watch students go from initially qualifying for special education services to making huge growth in communication, academics, behavior, and socially,” Samantha says. “My favorite meetings are the ones where I get to tell parents their child no longer requires services because they have made so much progress that they are able to function in a general education classroom without extra support.”