Marshalltown grad returns to hometown to teach, coach

It was only a few years ago, 2014, when Leah Barkema was graduating as a Marshalltown Bobcat and looking toward her future career.

Now, Barkema is back, this time leading Miller Middle School eighth graders in science class and middle school swim team members.

“This community really gave me a lot when I was growing up,” she said. “When they had a job opening I was really excited to come back and give back.”

Barkema got her teaching education at Luther College in Decorah and wanted to bring her skills back to her community. She said teaching fits well with her desire to give back to her town and work with children.

She was an accomplished swimmer and spent her time as a student-athlete while at Marshalltown High School. Now, she is helping young swimmers as head coach of the Miller swim team and assistant coach of the Marshalltown High School swim teams.

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - First-year Miller Middle School science teacher and 2014 Marshalltown High School graduate Leah Barkema, right, helps student Ethan Schmidt with classwork.

“Middle school is a really fun season for me. I was a high school volunteer the first year the program kicked off, so now I’m back running it after a year of volunteering,” Barkema said.

Marshalltown Schools officials are hoping to see more cases like Barkema’s. Communications Director Andrew Potter said having homegrown teachers is advantageous to the district and its students.

“It’s a win-win for us because we get to see one of our own students become successful, and they can also pass it on to the next generation,” Potter said.

One way the district has been trying to get more homegrown teachers is by starting an introduction to education class at Marshalltown High School.

“We love to see this happening, we love it when people come back to Marshalltown,” Potter said.

Barkema said her experience as a student-athlete at Marshalltown Schools makes her especially well-equipped to teach, coach and understand her students.

“I think it’s a huge advantage. It really helped me be more comfortable with the building,” she said.

Like district officials, Barkema said she hopes more teachers and working people decide to bring their skills back to Marshalltown.

“I’d always encourage them to consider coming back to the community that they grew up in,” she said.