Kathy Strode Downs, a former Pine Bluff resident, has returned to the United States to live and continue her teaching career after completing 25 years of service/teaching for the U.S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDEA) overseas.

Kathy Strode Downs, a former Pine Bluff resident, has returned to the United States to live and continue her teaching career after completing 25 years of service/teaching for the U.S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDEA) overseas.

A 1980 graduate of Pine Bluff High School, Downs is currently the principal at Ashurst Elementary School at Quantico, Va., where she works primarily with early childhood students in grades pre-kindergarten through third.

Downs has spent the last 25 years, half of her life, teaching in American military elementary schools on military bases in Germany, Italy, the Philippines, England, and Japan. For 12 years, she taught mostly kindergarten through mixed first- and second-grade classes. She has been an administrator for 13 years.

The European Parent-Teachers Association named Downs Educator of the Year when she was assistant principal in Naples, Italy, during the 2003-2004 school year. She was a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematical Teaching on two occasions during her years at Babenhausen Elementary in Germany, a school that has since closed.

Downs is a 1985 graduate of the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from National-Louis University in Illinois and a second master’s degree from the online Northcentral University.

In discussing her new teaching position in Virginia, Downs said, “I came from a school with 970 students (Ramstein, Germany) and I love the size of this school. I can have contact with every child every day. I prefer teaching young children because they’re excited about learning. Everything is new to them, and in the early childhood years you’re building a really important foundation. I get lots of hugs with this age, because I’m the lady who opens their milk cartons at lunch.”

Downs does not come from a military family and was initially drawn to military education by the promise of travel, she said.

After teaching a semester in an Arkansas public school, she jumped at a chance many teachers might not have taken — teaching kindergarten in the morning and music in the afternoon at Osterholz-Scharmbeck Elementary School in Germany.

“As I have grown as a professional, I really see what I do as my way of serving my country,” she said, adding that she and her husband and daughter had come to see themselves as a military family, constantly packing up and moving as she was reassigned.

Her husband, Robert, who is originally from Arkadelphia, is staying in Germany until he finds work in Virginia. Their seventh-grade daughter, Emily, is experiencing her first year outside the military school system and her first time, since she was 2 weeks old, to live in America.

“Our service men and women are doing amazingly brave things for all of us and I see this [teaching for DoDEA] as my way of taking care of what’s most precious to them, what’s closest to their hearts. There’s nothing more precious than their children,” she said.

Downs is the daughter of Thomas L. and Patsy Strode of Pine Bluff. She has one brother, Thomas Corkill Strode, of Maumelle. This is the first Christmas in 10 years, the family will be together for the Christmas holidays, and only the second Christmas spent together in the last 25 years.

DoDEA’s schools serve the children of military service members and U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees throughout the world. DoDEA operates 194 schools in 14 districts located in 12 foreign countries, seven states, Guam, and Puerto Rico. All schools within DoDEA are fully accredited by U.S. accreditation agencies. Approximately 8,700 educators serve more than 86,000 DoDEA students.