Melissa Barkema is celebrating 12 years of teaching at Kidsworld this month.
Five years ago she also took on the role of assistant director, but being with the kids is her favorite part of her job. Right now she teaches in the preschool class helping 4- and 5-year-olds prepare for kindergarten.
“I love to see when they finally get something and figure it out,” Barkema says. “It makes you feel really great to know you have a part in them learning that.”
Barkema actually studied massage therapy in college and took the job at Kidsworld while looking for something in her field. However, once she started working with the kids, she decided this is where she was meant to be.
“It’s my fit,” she says. She says it has worked out perfectly because soon after starting at the center, she got married and had kids of her own.
“It’s the next best thing to being a stay-at-home-mom,” she says.
Students in her class work hard on shapes, colors, alphabet and counting in both English and Spanish. They also learn counting by two’s and five’s. The students also do a lot of hands-on projects and take field trips to the library and parks around Altoona as well as heading to the zoo once a year.
“We try to incorporate some of the field trips with our themes each week,” Barkema says.
One thing Barkema says she and the kids look forward to every year is preschool graduation in the spring.
“They get all dolled up in caps and gowns,” she says.
The graduation takes place at CAP Theatre and each student gets to take part in showing parents what he or she has learned in preschool.
When not at work, Barkema and her family — husband Jon, and sons Gabriel, 9, and Tysen, 7 — enjoy family movie nights and spending time together taking vacations. They also have a dog, a Husky mix named Gizmo who Barkema says is her “other baby.”
Her sons are involved in several activities including soccer, wrestling, football and baseball.
“I really enjoy watching them,” she says. “It keeps us busy.”
Barkema says she can’t imagine working anywhere else.
“I love coming to work every day. The kids really can brighten your day,” she says.