More SPS Stories

  • High schoolers, 3rd graders create community of kindness

    Posted by Communications staff on 11/28/2021

    [Listen to an audio version of this story at]

    High school student interacts with elementary students in classroom. A group of Shadle Park High School students visited third graders at Westview Elementary School last week.

    The older students handed out buckets of swag – water bottles, erasers, earbuds – as well as a handmade cookie with each students’ name, shaped like a puzzle piece.

    Junior Evie Patel explained to the class.

    “OK, so what that puzzle piece means is that between Shadle and Westview, we’re working together like puzzle pieces work together to make a puzzle, right? And it’s the kindness puzzle. So each of you guys is a piece to our kindness puzzle,” she said.Boy holds cookie with his name, Oliver, on it.

    While they’ve been meeting virtually for the past few months – reading books and doing projects centered on kindness – this was everyone’s first time gathering in person.

    “They’ve been coming up on Teams and they’ve been reading us stories of how to show ourself respect and other people kindness,” third grader Nyah said. “I think it’s important to be kind because, you just need to treat others how you would like to be treated.”

    The partnership began with Shadle teacher Brooke Meyer, who wanted her Leadership students to work on thinking outside of themselves. She partnered with her sister, Tiffiny Santos, who teaches third grade at Westview.

    “Westview is eventually going to be at Shadle,” said senior Sydney Tollefson. “We want them to know that Shadle is a kind place and we really care about everyone being included and being involved and everything.”

    Their current project involves a kindness passport, which Evie introduced last week.

    “So each passport has a variety of acts they can do, whether that’s at home, at school, with buddies, without buddies,” she said. “And then in the end they get a shirt that says ‘Kindness Crew.’”

    Senior Emma Summers attended Westview herself and has two nephews in Mrs. Santos’ class.

    “I’ve even seen just a difference in their behaviors and they still talk about the first book that we read to them like three months ago,” she said. “And so, I just feel like what we’re doing is really making a difference.”

    Third grader Connor said at the start of the year, he was feeling invisible and out of place. The collaboration with Shadle has changed that.

    “Yeah, it actually kind of helps me fit in,” he said. “Kindness is really important because if you give kindness to somebody you show an act of love, and then they want to be your friend.”

    Elementary student looking at a kindness passport. And after a year of distance learning, Shadle senior Jacob White says this project – these little acts of love – are reminding everyone what community looks like. 

    “These meetings, the goal is to project an idea of inclusivity so that they can have a connective relationship with each other and that no one gets left out,” he said. “I feel like it’s important to also remind each other in high school to be kind to each other.”

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  • Model, actor, advocate meets with Glover students

    Posted by Communications staff on 11/19/2021

    Glover Middle School students last week had the chance to chat with Maya Samaha – a multifaceted model, actor, and artist from Spokane who has gone on to achieve international acclaim.

    Maya’s mother, Rachel Samaha, is a behavior intervention teacher at the school. 

    “My mom is fantastic,” Maya Samaha stands with a group of Glover Middle School students. Maya said. “She teaches so many different types of kids and she’s made such a huge difference in their individual lives. So, when she asked if I wanted to come speak to students here, I said ‘absolutely.’”

    Maya has worked with Nike, Target, Gap and H&M, and recently had a starring role in an ad for Amazon Prime. But on Friday, she was also there to speak as a member of the LGBTQ community who struggled to grow into their authentic self.

    “It’s hard to do that, especially at this age,” she said. “I didn’t discover my pronouns [she/they] or feel comfortable enough to acknowledge my identity until later.”

    Glover Principal Assistant Alyson Chamberlin said small groups of interested students signed up ahead of time to meet Maya. Maya Samaha and Rachel Samaha stand in the Glover Middle School commons.

    “She’s here to discuss how students can advocate for themselves and minorities while simultaneously bringing communities together,” Alyson said. “It’s much easier to hate and stereotype and judge than it is to figure out a way to bring people together. I need to know that my students are going to high school with the wherewithal to do that.” 

    Maya challenged all students to be patient with themselves and to grow in their own time.

    “Understand that – however you identify – it’s a long journey,” Maya said. “Show up, unapologetically, as yourself. Find your community.”

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  • New TCS class has students grow, cook, eat, and connect

    Posted by Communications staff on 11/8/2021

    Students at The Community School are learning basic gardening and cooking skills, along with the confidence to put them into practice.

    students cooking food in kitchen “I designed my ‘Grow.Cook.Eat.’ class at the beginning of last school year when we were teaching virtually,” said teacher Ryan Campanella. “I want students to come away with the feeling that they can cook for themselves or their family, stay on budget, and create nutritious and delicious meals." 

    Students make personal goals in the beginning of the quarter and work toward achieving them. Campanella has them use familiar, budget-friendly ingredients such as beans, pasta, and vegetables to make scratch dishes.

    "I also try to show students how they can grow their own food," he said. "We used some of the vegetables from the garden in our recipes this quarter.”

    In keeping with the school’s name, the class connects with their community as well. Wanderlust Delicato owner Amber Park recently invited the class to plan, prepare, and cook a meal in her downtown charcuterie shop. Next quarter, Legacy Learners community education director Latesha Wood will be working with students on composting all lunch waste the school produces using the Bokashi composting beans on tray

    “I think the students really like being in a professional space, working in small groups and sharing their knowledge,” Campanella said. “The class has been a lot of fun and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.”

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  • Expanding Equity

    Posted by Communications staff on 10/20/2021

    Lonna Gately

    It’s been a long time coming. But thanks to the unquenchable spirit of Lonna Gately, Spokane Public Schools this week became one of the first -- if not the first -- districts in the state to do the online SBAC (the state standardized test) with braille.

    About five years ago, Gately, teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired, started thinking about the SBAC and the future needs of her students. She knew that the existing paper-and-pencil version of the test doesn’t provide the same information as the online version. The online version is adaptive, meaning the questions become harder or easier depending on how a student is answering. This provides a more accurate picture of the student’s academic standing.

    “The braille ‘paper and pencil’ test is not equitable to what the sighted peers in the classroom are taking,” Gately said. “Our students deserve the same information as the rest of the kids taking the test.”

    Janet Carlson and Denise Brown, who also teach the visually impaired, joined Gately to start researching types of technology needed to offer the online version of the test. The braille SBAC works just like the SBAC for everyone else, except that when a student starts a question on their computer, it gets sent to Gately’s computer so she can emboss it. Embossing is essentially printing in braille. The student then answers the question and moves on to the next. The test can adapt, just like it does for everyone else taking the SBAC.braille on computer

    Server issues, software trouble, challenges with the braille files, and incorrect settings in the state system threatened to derail the project. But even as the testing window drew ever closer and the software was still not working, Gately refused to give up.

    “I was determined that our students would take the same test as all of their peers,” she said, noting that she had two 5th graders at Garfield Elementary School take the SBAC this week. “We are all about equity in our district and I wanted to see this through.”

    When at last the test worked just as it should, Gately was beyond happy.

    “I nearly cried when I got it to work,” she said. “I was jumping for joy, in fact!”

    Gately is quick to applaud the many people who made the online SBAC with braille a reality. The SPS Special Education department swiftly acquired the required braille transcription software, ITSC (Instructional Technology Support Center) kindly responded to Gately’s many phone calls, the Garfield staff supported her decision to use the online version, and students patiently worked with her to see the project through.

    “It really has been a team effort,” she said.




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  • ELD teacher embraces Hispanic heritage, launches movement to find more teachers of color

    Posted by Communications staff on 10/13/2021

    Maria Esther Zamora speaking to 6th graders Within every immigrant are countless stories of extreme courage.

    Few exemplify that better than Maria Esther Zamora, who currently teaches English Language Development (ELD) at Logan Elementary. In the early 1990s, she moved from Mexico City to Spokane as an almost 30-year-old in search of more opportunities. Throughout the difficult transition, Maria Esther kept the love of her Mexican heritage close to her heart.

    “I think it was really an opportunity for me to appreciate the beautiful aspect of being an immigrant and coming from a country rich in culture and history,” she said.

    Maria Esther had her share of ups and down the first few years in her new country. Meeting and marrying her husband, a Spokane native, and giving birth to two sons were certainly highlights. But despite earning a business degree from the top university in Mexico and having years of work experience, Maria Esther said it was difficult to find a job. Adapting to her new life and home was filled with struggles.

    “It was very rare to find people that look like me in this community,” she said. “The process was sincerely very difficult because even though I have higher education from Mexico and was learning English as an adult, I felt like I was really living in a situation that was unknown.”

    Instead of throwing in the towel, Maria Esther decided to find a new purpose in education and enrolled at Gonzaga University to get her teaching certification in Spanish and business. But even with her new certifications in hand, as well as a couple years of teaching Spanish at Gonzaga and the local community colleges under her belt, it was still challenging for Maria Esther to break into K-12 education, the place she felt she could make the biggest difference.

    “After doing some research and knocking on the doors of human resources departments in the school districts,” Maria Esther said, “they told me that the best way for me to be more marketable was to get an endorsement to teach English as a second language.”

    Once again, Maria Esther pulled together her savings and went back to Gonzaga to get her master’s in teaching English as a second language. Then in 1996, she got a long-term substitute job teaching Spanish at Shadle Park High School. It was not until 2003 when she finally landed a continuing contract at North Central High School, where she stayed for 15 years and back to Shadle Park for 3 more years, before coming on at Logan Elementary as an ELD instructor in the fall of 2016.

    Over the last few years, Maria Esther has seen her time at Logan – whose population has a high percentage of students of color – as a great opportunity to help those in the rapidly-changing Spokane community.

    “We are getting more English learners here,” she said, “and families who need advocacy and an understanding of the value of education, and it helps when they see teachers who look like themselves.”

    That realization prompted Maria Esther’s next big, courageous endeavor. Last school year, she spearheaded the creation of the Spokane Future Educators of Color Consortium (SFECC), whose mission is to reduce the disparity between the number of students of color and the number of teachers of color across K-12 and higher education in Spokane County. 

    According to the most recent Washington State Report Card from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, schools across the state have a way to go to narrow the disparity gap, as the graph below demonstrates.

    Graphs showing disparity between students of color and teachers of color

    Source: Washington State Report Card (

    From the get-go, Maria Esther committed to asking the tough questions to administrators and staff about what was being done to address this issue.

    “I always ask, ‘What are we doing to fit the needs of this particular population, have you noticed our students changing?’” she said. “This community is not a monolingual community anymore. We have 79 languages spoken in this school district. What are we doing? What are we doing to bring more educators, more staff of color?”

    Maria Esther dove into the research and found there is a profound positive impact when diverse school districts like SPS have more educators of color.

    “We need to acknowledge that is does not only benefit the students of color to see themselves reflected in teachers that look like them,” she said. It also benefits all students because every one of them needs to see the wonderful experience of teachers sharing their own background knowledge, cultures, languages, and heritage.”

    After weeks of planning and spreading the word to friends and colleagues at SPS, Gonzaga, and other local colleges, Maria Esther and the SFECC held its first meeting with its 25 initial members. One of those first members was Nancy Gonzales, who is a third-grade teacher at the Libby Center’s Spanish Immersion program. Before that, Nancy worked at Logan, where she was Maria Esther’s classroom neighbor.

    “I was there for a couple of years, and we would work together on projects for the ELD students,” said Nancy. “My background is in bilingual education and just talking about how we could improve things for her ELD kids was great.”

    As a teacher of color, Nancy says she loves giving all her students – especially those of color – a chance to bring their different cultures and upbringings into the classroom.

    “I think it’s important to be able to connect and create those bridges for our students,” Nancy said. “Like, ‘What do you do at home and how can I build on top of that so we can get you into the playing field?’”

    Now, nearly six months since their first meeting, membership in the SFECC has almost tripled and continues to grow. Original member Nancy Gonzales is excited for what’s to come.

    “If we have educators of color in the classroom, students can see the possibilities," she said. "They don’t all have to grow up to be teachers, but at least we’re opening doors for other paths they can take and normalizing it.”

    Meanwhile, Maria Esther remains focused on the task at hand: advocating for students of color.

    “The important thing is that we continue the conversation and continue thinking of what we need to do next,” she said. “It’s vital for students to see us as active, important members of the community and inspire them to think, ‘if Miss Zamora was able to do it, I can do it, too.’”

    If you are interested in learning more about or joining the Spokane Future Educators of Color Consortium, email Maria Esther at

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  • Hispanic Heritage Month: Libby Spanish Immersion students recreate "El Grito"

    Posted by Communications staff on 9/28/2021

    For an audio version of this story, visit

    Nancy Gonzales holding microphone for student

    Last week at the Libby Center, a ruckus erupted from the cafeteria and reverberated through the halls of the campus.

    "Viva los dragones!" "VIVA"

    That ruckus is the sound of three dozen third graders from Libby’s Spanish Immersion program learning about – of all things – Mexican history and independence. Teacher Nancy Gonzales is leading the charge. She explains the students are recreating “El Grito” – or “the battle cry” – which kicks off the Independence Day celebrations south of the border every September.

    "We learned about how Mexico started their independence," Nancy said, "and so in order to inspire them to go and fight and really get them motivated, they yell things like, 'Viva la independencia!' So, they're fighting for independence, they're fighting for democracy. Historically, they then relive that moment at midnight, every year. The president will come out of his balcony and he'll go through all of the heroes who fought in the war and it's a huge event. The president says all of his people, all of the ideas like democracy, honesty, quality, and then at the end, he rings the bell and then there's fireworks."

    While teaching her students about the significance of “El Grito,” Nancy – whose family is from Mexico – thought her students would get a kick out of doing a Libby Center version of Mexico’s yell for independence.

    "I think it is so beautiful to mix cultures. So mixing it with Mexican Independence, mixing it with Hispanic heritage and mixing it with Spokane, that's what Libby Center is. And so all that mixture is what you heard with the kids and their statements. They were so good about coming up with their own stuff, and some were silly, but it's fun."

    One student yelled "Viva los derechos!" That means, "Long live human rights"

    Libby’s Spanish Immersion program is one-of-a-kind in Eastern Washington, and Nancy says the fact that many of the teachers come from different Latinx backgrounds is so valuable for the students.

    "This year, we hired someone who was born and raised in Venezuela. We have a colleague who's from Spain, like coming from and hearing the different Spanishes. Even from Mexico. We have people from the north of Mexico, people from the south of Mexico. People who have been here for generations in the United States and learned it from their parents or learned it from their grandparents. So just there is such opportunity because of the language piece to instill that culture."

    Nancy continued: "We have been very fortunate to find people who have this background who have a linguistic and cultural experience to, to add to the richness of the program."

    "Viva Spokane!" "VIVA!"

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  • Shaw music students, teachers invigorated by new classrooms

    Posted by Communications staff on 9/14/2021

    Wide view of a Shaw Middle School band class

    It’s been almost two weeks since the new Shaw Middle School opened its doors to eager students, teachers, and staff. Few are more excited about the new digs than music teachers Jim Heath and Austin Long.

    “I really love this new building,” Austin said.

    Picture of kid in yellow sweatshirt playing the trumpet Jim, who is in his sixth year as Shaw’s instrumental music teacher, says the differences between his new classroom and his old one are like night and day.

    “The [old] building was really nice for being built in the 1950s,” said Jim, “but there are so many fundamental differences.”

    The most glaring difference might be the integration of technology in the two music classrooms.

    “We have built-in recording equipment with microphones hanging from the ceiling,” Jim pointed out enthusiastically. “There’s Bluetooth speakers built into the wall as well. It all lets us do the things musicians need to do, but a whole lot easier than before.”

    Even having a flat floor, rather than the terrace-like set up they had in the old Shaw, has been a real game changer for the classes and “allows for more flexibility in our rehearsal,” according to Jim.

    Austin, on the other hand, is brand new to Shaw. This is his first year as the school’s new choir teacher, and the first choir teacher at Shaw in three years.

    “We’re trying to get the choir program started back up again,” said Austin. “It’s going to be a slow process but I’m already trying to come up with ways to get kids interested and excited about it again." 

    One way he hopes to do that is by introducing more 21st Century music-making elements to the classroom.

    Wide view of Shaw Middle School choir classroom

    “Basically, like a unit on creating your own digital music,” explained Austin. “All the students have laptops that can run a digital audio workstation through their browser…and they can record themselves with the built-in microphone. It’s a really easy way to ease into creating music.”

    Unlike in old Shaw, the music rooms in new Shaw feature floor-to-ceiling sound-proof windows that look out onto a busy hallway and the outdoor play structure. The goal of the windows is for students passing by to stop and watch their classmates jam away. 

    Jim says the windows are a radical change from his old windowless band room that was tucked away in an oft-forgotten corner of the school.

    A violin sits in front of a window in the classroom “It is nice to be able to visually integrate with the school,” Jim said. “Having sight lines with the windows to the hallway and to the outside does a lot for student morale and happiness, which leads to more engagement.”

    Both Jim and Austin are stoked about the direction Shaw’s music department is heading, and they can feel the students’ excitement as well.

    “They seem to be really happy, really enjoying the new space,” said Austin.

    “I definitely think the new building has invigorated a lot of students,” Jim added. “There was definitely a lot more hesitation and nervousness when we started back in the old building versus now. There is a noticeable excitement and positive energy that’s just far exceeding anything they were experiencing last year.”

    The new Shaw Middle School was made possible by community support and the passage of the 2018 school bond. Learn more about the project at

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  • Sounds of learning: Phonograph sends summer campers to the 1900s

    Posted by Communications staff on 8/4/2021

    For an audio version of this story, visit

     Boy looks at phonograph.

    “How’s everybody doing today, did you have fun at recess?”

    “It’s too hot!” students shout. 

    Paraeducator Phil Saunders stands in front of a group of fourth through sixth graders at Audubon Elementary’s summer camp. 

    “So, I’ve got some questions to start off, OK? What is sound?” 

    All eyes are fixed on an antique wooden box he’s brought from home.

    A student in the back row leans forward. “Vibrations in the air current makes it so you can hear people,” he says. Saunders agrees, then leads a brief discussion on the nature of sound waves that segues to Thomas Edison, often described as America's greatest inventor who took out more than 1,000 patents before his death in 1931. 

    “So, Edison is most known for what? Does anyone know what his most known invention is?”

    “The lightbulb.”

    “That’s right, he invented the lightbulb. And this an Edison player.” Saunders opens the box to reveal an Edison phonograph cylinder player. It’s the earliest commercial medium for recording and reproducing sound and a precursor to the record player. This one is circa early 1900s.

    The class talks through the dynamics of amplification and what life was like prior to widespread electricity before considering the invention’s usefulness in a time when many people couldn’t read, write, or travel cross country to see loved ones.

    “So, [Edison] thought, well this would be handy, because somebody on this side could say, ‘Hi Aunty, we’re doing great, we just planted the crops.’ And it’ll record on a cylinder that looks just like this. And you can each take one.”

    Students choose from a box full of hollow cylinders, then line up at the player to hear what they hold.

    “What you’re holding in your hand is 100 years old, at least!” 

    Saunders winds up the machine, places a cylinder onto the rotating chamber, then carefully releases the stylus.

    A violin crackles to life.

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  • LC students pick produce to help local farmers, environment

    Posted by Communications staff on 7/1/2021

    While Spokane tries to keep cool during the hottest week of the year, Lewis and Clark High School senior Ali Groza just can’t wait to be outside.

    “Spokane is a great place to be raised when it comes to the outdoors,” said Ali, “and my family has always been really into camping, biking, skiing, all of that.”

    Students outside grower house in the middle of an orchard It was her family’s love of the outdoors that spawned Ali’s love for the environment and her passion to help protect it. So, in the winter of 2020, in the middle of her sophomore year, Ali set about reviving LC’s Environmental Club. Over the next couple months, things with the club seemed to be going well.

    “LC is a big school, and we were able to recruit a lot of people,” Ali said. “We focused on being volunteer-based since that’s how students liked to engage the most, where they feel like they’re making a difference.”

    Once the pandemic took hold in March 2020 and forced people to stay home, Ali and the other leaders from LC’s Environmental Club looked for ways to keep club members engaged.

    “In normal times, we would meet about once a week at LC, but due to COVID, we organized a lot of volunteering events and online meetings,” explained Ali, “We just wanted to do something.”

    Then came the idea to reach out to local farms and growers by picking the extra produce left on their trees, bushes, and fields, and distributing them to Spokane families. It was the perfect marriage of minimizing food waste and helping local businesses.

    “At the beginning of the pandemic, we kept hearing how we should support local businesses,” Ali said, “and a lot of us had volunteered with Second Harvest and saw how they try to combat food waste by dispersing overstock produce. We saw this as a way where we could help contribute.”

    Students picking fruit from tree in an orchard So last summer, Ali and the LC Environmental Club partnered with three Green Bluff growers – Hidden Acres Orchards, Priddy Good Fruit, and Found Barn Farms – on an interesting new venture call the Green Bluff Harvest Program.

    Here’s how the Green Bluff Harvest Program works:

    At the beginning of the week, the growers would tell the Environmental Club which produce was available and how much. Then, the club would send out a Google Form where families could see what options were available and fill out how much they wanted. After giving families four or five days to respond, a group of club volunteers would head up to Green Bluff and spend a couple hours picking the produce and organizing it. Once they got an official count from the growers, the volunteers would bring their haul back to a central location – like Hart Field – so families could pick up and pay for their produce at a big discount.

    “It encouraged people to buy their produce from us because they were getting that discounted price, like 99 cents for a pound of apples grown a few miles away,” said Ali.

    The club also set up a pound-for-pound matching donation system with its farming partners. For example, if families order and purchase 70 pounds of produce from a farm, the students will pick an additional 70 pounds of produce and donate it directory to a local food back.

    Students standing outside the East Central Community Center with crates of fruit Last summer’s Harvest Program worked so well for everyone involved, Ali and the Environmental Club are bringing it back this summer, starting the second week of July. Their goal this year is to attract more people to buy produce through the Green Bluff Harvest Program to give more families access to fresh, affordable food and lend more support to local growers.

    If you’d like to purchase produce through LC’s Green Bluff Harvest Program, fill out this sign-up form or email the club at

    Ali said if the program is able to get more consumers, they’ll need more volunteers as well: “Right now we have a solid 10 people that are reoccurring volunteers, but we’d love to have more.

    “People want to feel like they’re making a difference, especially when it comes to the environment and climate change,” said Ali. “Climate change is an immensely overwhelming subject and can make someone think, ‘What could I possibly do to help change things?’ This is very cliché, but the change has to start somewhere.”

    The students at LC are already teaming up with their counterparts at North Central and Ferris but are hoping more Spokane high school students join in as well. If you’re interested in helping with the Green Bluff Harvest Program this summer, fill out this volunteer form or email

    Student carrying basket of fruit in orchard

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  • “An amazing woman”: Principal of Carla Peperzak Middle meets school’s namesake

    Posted by Communications staff on 6/30/2021

    Carla Peperzak in blue shirt sitting next to Andre Wicks in a pink shirt

    It’s not every day a principal gets to meet the person their school is named after. So when Andre Wicks – who will be the principal of the new Carla Peperzak Middle School when it opens on the South Hill in 2023 – got the opportunity to meet the school’s namesake in person, there was no way he could pass it up.

    “Once the new school names were finalized, I thought, ‘man, I got to try and meet Carla,’” said Andre. “We’re in a bit of a unique position with her still being alive and I really wanted to capitalize on that.”

    After a quick introductory phone call, Andre sat down with Carla and her daughter last week. Andre said it was like “meeting a celebrity.”

    “It was just amazing to hear her story and the struggles and hardships she endured,” Andre said. “It’s incredible to think about everything that she’s accomplished in her life.”

    Andre continued: “It was really cool to have her daughter there as well to talk about all the different places around the world they’ve lived…and the different opportunities her and her siblings and parents got to experience while doing their work and sharing the stories.”

    During the 90-minute conversation, Andre said he was taken by how humble Carla was to have a school named after her.

    “She was beyond honored her name was even recommended and suggested, let alone chosen."

    That humility, along with Carla’s courage and kindness, are traits Andre hopes to incorporate into the new middle school.

    “When we start having [school] design team meetings again,” said Andre, “we plan on having a conversation about the virtues and values of Carla Peperzak we want to emulate in our school culture.”

    The team will also think of ways to honor Carla and her extraordinary life throughout the school that bears her name.

    “We’ve talked about having a display inside the school, but we have a unique opportunity given the footprint of the school and where it’s located to commemorate her outside with a plaque or wall or a special pathway around the building.”

    Carla Peperzak Middle School is just one of many projects that Spokane voters approved by passing the 2018 Bond to help support the change to a 6-8th grade middle school configuration, relieve overcrowding, and accommodate student growth throughout the district. Learn more about the project at

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