This Teacher Appreciation Week, ESD 112 would like to share the stories of the incredible work that teachers around the region are doing each and every day for our students. While schools in Washington State transitioned to online learning models several weeks ago following the governor’s Stay Home order that was issued in March, teachers have adapted their lessons and teaching methods to continue meeting the unique needs of learners in their schools. The teachers highlighted below were all nominated and considered as finalists for ESD 112’s 2020 Regional Teacher of the Year Award and we want to recognize their commitment to excellence in Southwest Washington schools.
Ryan Anderson, Battle Ground Public Schools
Ryan Anderson, or “Mr. A,” as he is affectionately called by many of his students, is a National Board Certified English language arts (ELA) teacher at River HomeLink in Battle Ground and a Washington State ELA Fellow. Although he is known for being an exceptional writer and teacher, Mr. A is equally adept at lifting the spirits of his students and teaching them to be creative and active participants in their own learning. Mr. A encourages his students to look for joy in life experiences and to let their experiences guide their learning in a way that makes them feel inspired and motivated to always keep learning. The love for learning that Mr. A instills in his students stays with them long after they leave his classroom and graduate from high school, as indicated by the many who come back to visit and always want to say hello to their “favorite teacher.”
Aaron Blackwelder, Woodland School District
Aaron Blackwelder is an English language arts teacher at Woodland High School and works closely with students who are on the autism spectrum. Aaron’s core belief about education is that “every child deserves to learn,” a philosophy that is clearly demonstrated in and outside of his classroom each day. Aaron’s classroom is an innovative “gradeless” environment, where students are encouraged to focus on their learning, rather than their grades, enabling them to think, learn and write freely. By redefining student success and achievement to focus on personal development and exploration in learning, Aaron is helping to shape a future in which all students, regardless of background, ability or talent, have the opportunity to succeed in a way that is meaningful for them.
Kelcey Burris, Evergreen Public Schools
Kelcey Burris is a STEM teacher at Union High School in Vancouver, where he teaches AP Biology and AP Computer Science classes and coaches the girls soccer team. Kelcey’s commitment to academic excellence for his students is second to none. While he holds high expectations for his students and often presents them with challenging scenarios to work through in class, Kelcey is also compassionate and accommodating, presenting materials in ways that can reach all levels of student learning. Kelcey has also been instrumental in growing the computer science program at Union High School, and is largely responsible for opening the door to careers in STEM and computer science for many of his students who may not have otherwise considered the subject. His passion for his students’ learning and development has led him to be described by a student as “more than just a teacher or a coach; he is a mentor, an ally and a friend.”
Andrea Feller, Longview Public Schools
Andrea Feller is a special education preschool teacher at Broadway Early Learning Center in Longview who specializes in teaching children ages 3-5 who have an identified disability. Andrea approaches teaching some of Longview’s youngest learners with the utmost intention and compassion, by tailoring activities to students’ varying needs. For Andrea, preschool learning is about far more than letters, numbers and shapes; it is an absolutely critical stage of childhood development that should also effectively address children’s social and emotional wellness needs. As part of her commitment to this belief, Andrea has gone so far as to create a “Backpack Buddies” program at Broadway ELC that sends food home with students every Friday for families who are struggling financially.
Tami Grant, Washougal School District
Tami Grant is an American Sign Language teacher at Washougal High School in Washougal, a community that she cares about deeply and inspires her students to do the same. Tami was described by one of her colleagues as a “kid magnet;” she often connects so well with her students that they want to spend time with her even outside of regular class periods. Students frequently choose to spend their lunch period in Tami’s classroom, and many enjoy opportunities to get extra help or participate in school club activities with her. Tami’s infectiously positive outlook and encouragement permeate her classroom and the entire school, setting her students up for success no matter what career or life path they choose.
Katie James, Ridgefield School District
Katie James is a science teacher at View Ridge Middle School, where she is known for being a leader amongst her peers and in Washington State science education. Katie is highly committed to paving the way to success not only for her students, but for her colleagues as well. She frequently and reliably serves as a role model for other teachers and enjoys being able to lift other teachers up in their own classrooms. Katie is also an OSPI Science Fellow and serves on a science teacher leadership team at ESD 112. Through her work with the ESD, Katie has contributed to the effort to redesign regional science kits so they meet Next Generation Science Standards.
Jessica McDonald, Longview School District
Jessica McDonald is a special education teacher at Robert Gray Elementary School who works primarily with students who have autism. Her skill at adapting lessons and learning experiences to individual students has resulted in many students successfully being able to eventually transition into the general education setting. The relationships that Jessica builds with her students extend far beyond the walls of her classroom; it is not uncommon for Jessica to attend therapy appointments with students and their families if that’s what they happen to need. Jessica is widely admired by her colleagues as well as by her students and their families, and her inclusionary practices in the classroom are an inspiration to many.
Tamara Smith, Kalama School District
Tamara “Tammy” Smith is a special education and life skills teacher at Kalama Middle and High School. She has had a profound impact on numerous students and families who have special education needs, and her unending support is a major contributing factor to many of her students’ success in transitioning from high school to adult life. Tammy has worked tirelessly toward inclusivity for all students at Kalama Middle/High School to ensure that special education students are included in all types of school activities and opportunities. Perhaps more than anything, her warmth and welcoming attitude are what make her an exceptional teacher, mentor and friend to her students, families and colleagues.
We are proud of these incredible teachers and appreciate their dedication to providing exceptional educational experiences for the youth of Southwest Washington. Congratulations to all who were nominated in 2020!
2021 Teacher of the Year
Applications for the 2021 ESD 112 Regional Teacher of the Year award have been submitted and are currently being evaluated. We look forward to announcing the region’s winner in the coming months. You can read about this year’s Regional and State Teacher of the Year Amy Campbell here.