MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Before Eric Steimel graduated Wake Forest University with a biology degree with the emphasis in teaching, he had been looking for teaching opportunities, with many job offers on the table. But, when he graduated in 1984, he accepted one he couldn’t refuse – science teacher at Lejeune High School aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
It wasn’t for the money. It was personal, something near and dear to his heart. He wanted to come back to a place he called home, a place as he refers to it – the reason why he went into teaching.
Steimel, who is in his second year as principal of LHS and 27th in the Department of Defense Education Activity aboard MCB Camp Lejeune, spent all of his high school years at Lejeune High School and graduated in 1980.
Steimel’s father was a Navy general surgeon, and while growing up, much like many military families, he and his family moved all over the place. From first through fourth grade he attended Roosevelt Roads Elementary School, a DODEA school, when he and his family were stationed at a Naval Base Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico.
“I loved it,” said Steimel. “Everyone who attended school there had ties to the military. Everyone was friendly and you immediately became friends with other kids because we all shared at least one thing in common – we all were military children.”
Before entering fifth grade, Steimel’s father received orders to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. With no DODEA school available, Steimel had to enter the public school system for the first time. He attended Whetstone Elementary School and Montgomery Village Junior High School until he completed the eighth grade. These were the years he didn’t like going to school or learning anything. In Steimel’s opinion, he thought it was the “typical young boy adolescent years.”
“I definitely had an attitude then,” said Steimel. “I was in a public school, didn’t know anyone, didn’t grow up with anyone there like everyone else did and I felt as if the teachers were there to just teach and that’s it. I noticed the difference between the teachers from DODEA schools and public schools.”
“I felt like the whole time we were there, our neighbors didn’t know we existed,” said Steimel. “I was confused. There I was at that age hating everything, not wanting to do anything and really, what got me thinking the most, what I would eventually do after high school. I had no aspirations, nothing to look forward to.”
This all changed when his father, yet again, received orders to Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune aboard the base. His family moved on base and he began his freshman year at Lejeune High School. Upon walking through the front doors of LHS, Steimel didn’t know what to expect. He still had an attitude, was rebellious and just went to school because his parents made him.
“When I walked through that door here at Lejeune High School, there were people who knew I was new, but instead of ignoring me, they came up to me and introduced themselves,” said Steimel. “Whether I was at my locker in the hallway between periods or the lunch room, I was making friends.”
Coming back to LHS helped Steimel realize he came back to a place where he had people who he could relate to and vice versa. He also realized the teachers weren’t there just to teach.
“The teachers back then, and even now, knew what we went through. Whether our parents were deployed or (temporarily assigned) elsewhere, they understood that and helped us out in any way they could,” said Steimel. “They genuinely cared about us – they weren’t just teachers.”
The atmosphere surrounding LHS was the deciding factor in Steimel’s life. He knew after high school, he’d go into teaching. He knew that if the teaching staff could have an impact on his life, then he knew he could do the same.
After teaching high school science for eight years, serving as assistant principal and principal for Brewster Middle School for nine years and serving as an instructional systems specialist directly for the superintendent, Steimel now finds himself in his second year as LHS principal.
“One thing about DOD schools is, (students) always have a place here,” said Steimel. “The staff here gets it. They know about the deployments, they know about the constant moving. Deployed service members know their kids are taken care of. These are the things I experienced here at a young age and I realized that was the path I wanted to take shortly after the beginning of my freshman year. These are the kinds of things that mattered to me.”
Steimel often wonders what would have happened to him if he didn’t attend LHS. It’s a thought that runs through his mind from time to time.
“To be honest, it kind of scares me to this day,” he said. “Before coming here, I was at a point where I didn’t care, but, I’m glad things worked out the way they did.”
As far as becoming a teacher at a DOD school, Steimel believes, “You can’t, in my opinion, teach at a place, where you don’t have an interest other than teaching the subject you studied. You also have to connect with students, genuinely care about them and be a leader to them.”
Steimel doesn’t have any plans to leave the place where he found himself, a career, way of life and most importantly, a family.
“I’m back home where I belong.”