More SPS Stories

  • Santa’s sweatshirt giveaway at North Central

    Posted by Communications staff on 12/16/2020

    On a chilly December afternoon, it takes North Central principal Steve Fisk just a little bit longer than usual to get out of his truck. But before you can blame Steve’s glacial pace on achy joints aggravated by the cold – though you’d never catch me doing that! – you need to see what he’s wearing.

    It’s a red Santa suit that looks like it time-traveled from the early 1980s. And yes, that is duct tape holding his belt together.

    North Central principal Steve Fisk is dressed in an old Santa Claus suit - complete with beard and hair - holding a bell. “It’s been a while since I’ve worn this fella,” Steve says as he fidgets with the felt collar. “It’s a bit snug.”

    But Principal Fisk doesn’t endure this kind of sartorial discomfort for any jolly, old reason. On this chilly December afternoon, Steve and a few of his colleagues/elves are going door-to-door to deliver cheer to hundreds of families in the form of a North Central sweatshirt.

    “We started giving out the sweatshirts five years ago thanks to an idea from Matt and Kim Johnson,” recalls Steve. “Each year, we create a different design to go on the front of the sweatshirts then hand them out to students as motivational tools.”

    The first year, NC bought 30-50 sweatshirts to hand out. This year, they bought over 300 sweatshirts with money donated by school staff and their loved ones.

    NC counselor Lyndsey Sabo – one of the giveaway organizers – says it’s a highlight staff look forward to every year.

    “Staff nominate students to get sweatshirts based on good things they’re doing at school,” says Lyndsey. But nominations, she clarifies, are kept anonymous.

    “By not telling the students who nominated them, it lets them know that anyone – everyone – in the school sees their potential and wants them to succeed.”

    Because the pandemic has closed the school to most of the students, the sweatshirts were hand-delivered to each student’s home. While a lot of the recipients knew it was coming (it’s hard to slip “what’s your sweatshirt size?” into casual conversation without letting the cat out of the bag), seeing their beloved principal in an ill-fitting Santa suit was enough to warm up this chilly December afternoon.

    “We’d do anything for these kids,” exclaims Steve, with a big smile on his face.

    You only need one look at his outfit to know he’s absolutely telling the truth.

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  • Perseverance Leads to Published Book

    Posted by Communications staff on 12/15/2020

    On the day of the Freeman shooting, Daniel Sparks was subbing at North Central High School. The uncertainty of the situation at Freeman led to full lockdowns in Spokane Public Schools. Sparks remembers hiding behind several tables for about 30 minutes before being quickly ushered into a locked classroom. 

    “At the end of the day, I told myself I had to write a book,” he said, and immediately thought of two SPS counselors, Jacquie Bernbaum and Lori Gibson. Sparks has been a substitute teacher for SPS for 20 years, and had interacted with them from time to time.

    “I got into the car and asked myself, ‘What message would Jacquie and Lori want?’” Sparks remembered. “There wasn't a specific answer, but their influence and guidance were present for two and a half years of sketches, erasures and revisions.”

    book cover

    Sparks’s wife Patty took county library courses in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign to help make the children’s book a reality. You can now find “Take the Bull out of Bully” on Amazon Books. 

    “The characters in the story span different ages,” Sparks said. “I think it gives the story depth so the reader can ponder over what was, what will be, and what could be.” 

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  • Community Partners Lend a Hand

    Posted by Communications staff on 12/15/2020

    stress ball

    Thinking about the upcoming Winter Break, Ridgeview Elementary Counselor Joanne Ferris decided to give students a little something to support them through the two-week vacation.

    “I wanted them to have something to help them relieve stress, to remind them that it’s OK if things are different, and that they are loved,” she said.

    Her plan: stress balls. To help create of 300 of them, Ferris reached out to a community partner, Northside Christian Church. Members developed a sturdy and satisfying stress ball recipe of half cornstarch and half flour, tucked into two balloons. They decorated each with a positive message.

    Students learning in person will receive theirs on Friday with a note of encouragement. Stress balls will be delivered to distance learners by Gonzaga student Nick Weiland and Willard assistant secretary Elizabeth Ferris. 

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  • Actions Speak Louder Than Words

    Posted by Communications staff on 12/8/2020

    Congratulations to Ferris student Josiah Morrow, who won first place in the informative speaker category of the National Speech and Debate Association's "Feline Frenzy." His speech is about language deprivation and the medical impact on deaf children. Watch and learn!

    "It's good for everyone to learn new thing from deaf culture," Josiah said.

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  • Music Monday: Bucket Beasts

    Posted by Communications staff on 12/7/2020

    Ferris percussionists spend October working on drum set technique (hand/foot independence, hand patters, grip, placement, etc.). To practice, each student in the two classes created their own bucket drum sets. The video is part of the Advanced Percussion crew. Enjoy!

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  • Tending to Mental Wellness

    Posted by Communications staff on 11/30/2020

    After any widespread disaster, community reactions and behavioral health tend to follow a predictable pattern. An initial honeymoon phase of people connecting and working together slowly leads to a deep dive into disillusionment.

    And that’s exactly where we are right now.

    disaster response graph

    “We do better when we have routines, which gives us a sense of control our lives,” explained SPS Director Mental Health Services Dave Crump. “COVID took that away in so many ways: where you go, when you go, the disruption of celebrations and ceremonies.”

    Physical and recreational opportunities have decreased. Spiritual supports are not happening in the same way with church buildings closed. People are being asked to take on additional roles – to not only be parents and caregivers, but employees and also teachers, and to do new things without much training.

    “Everyone reacts differently, but we are all reacting to this,” Crump said.

    That’s why it is so important to pay attention to mental wellness.

    “Our thought process impacts our emotions and feelings,” he said, “and that impacts us physically.”

    Because it’s so easy to drift into negative thinking, Crump said, it’s important to be intentional about positive thoughts, to focus on what you’re grateful for, and to find things in your life you can control.

    Throughout SPS, administrators and staff are working on ways to support mental wellness by following the REST model, which stands for Reward, Establish, Share and Trust:

    yourself for a job well done

    • Build reinforcements into your work
    • Help pay attention to this aspect for maintaining resilience 

    Establish healthy boundaries

    • When you are off duty, stick to that boundary

    Share your feelings, concerns and stories

    • Participate in support and consultation groups
    • Make time for connections and activities in your life

    Trust your support network and reach out as needed

    • Refer people elsewhere if you are too tired or compromised emotionally to be able to offer support.

    Tending to mental wellness doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Many administrators are having quick, daily check-in meetings with staff, and also encouraging them to take advantage of their open-door policy to just come in and talk.

    Some schools have started anonymous gift giving, to provide people a little reminder that someone is thinking of them.

    Sheridan Elementary has wish tree. On a card, staff can write down something that would make their day (chocolate and coffee are popular), clip their wish to the tree, and one of their teammates grants the wish.

    At Lidgerwood Elementary, staff can join a support group in Teams, a lunch group with co-workers or a weekly meeting focused on ways to make a difference in student learning.

    Hamblen Elementary Principal Stefanie Heinen asked her staff to make a self-care commitment. Each week in her staff bulletin, she shares a simple self-care message, idea or REST reminder.

    “Real self-care goes beyond pedicures and getting take-out,” she said. “We need to focus on the things that really help us.”

    Feeling low? Dr. Crump suggested a few simple things to try that can have a huge impact:

    • Take a shower and change into clean clothes. It’s easy to say, “It doesn’t matter, I’m not going anywhere,” but these things do matter to your mental wellness.
    • Make an effort to eat healthy foods. It’s easy to fall into stress-eating mode, to keep reaching for snacks and junk food.
    • Examine your sleep habits. We can put up with a lot if we are well rested. Try to keep a consistent sleep routine, don’t eat in bed, turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
    • Do a little physical activity. Go for a walk in a safe place.
    • Do something kind for someone else. Send an email saying, “I’m grateful for you,” and explain why.
    • Avoid substances. Alcohol and marijuana are depressants.


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  • Three R's and Then Some

    Posted by Communications staff on 11/23/2020

    card of kindness The three R’s have some company. The basics of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, have been joined by respect, responsibility and relationship building.

    A social-emotional curriculum is now embedded in the school day for all SPS students.

    “It’s really teaching those soft skills – life skills like communication, relationship building, respecting yourself and others,” explained Counseling Program Coordinator Melanie Smith. “It helps us have a whole child focus.” 

    Starting this year, all middle and high schools are using a curriculum called “CharacterStrong,” and elementary schools are using “PurposeFull People” to dive into such topics as equity, kindness, courage, grit, motivation and perseverance. 

    “Taking time to focus on these traits can help students see how everything connects,” said Smith, noting that they are part of core subjects like math, history, science and English/language arts. “It’s not ‘one more thing,’ but a part of what we’re already doing.

    “I have had teachers tell me that this is the piece that was missing,” she added. “It’s a piece that has helped them connect with students.”

    And when students feel connected, they do better academically.

    “From a college and career readiness perspective, if you don’t have these skills, then there’s a lot that’s missing,” Smith said. “These are the skills that help students find success in school and in life.”

    With many of our regular routines disrupted and most students learning from home, it is more important than ever to work on building relationships and making time to focus on self care  -- for students and educators. Putting CharacterStrong and PurposeFull People into practice is one way to do that.

    PHOTO: Last year, Roosevelt students took part in a love notes campaign for cards to tuck into homeless care kits -- service learning that connects with responsibility, respect, kindness and empathy.

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  • Listen to This: LCHS Virtual Choir

    Posted by Communications staff on 11/20/2020

    In September, the Lews & Clark High School chamber choir began learning a new piece, "Ubi Caritas," working as a full ensemble and in sectionals. Last month, they had the unique opportunity of interviewing the song's composer, Ola Gjeilo, on a video call, all the way from NYC. Ola graciously donated his time, and students made the most of it by asking intelligent and thoughtful questions. After the interview, they completed their recordings.

    "I am so very proud of these young people," said LC Choir Director Sara Carroll, "and their commitment to understanding, rehearsing, and performing. They look forward to learning more music this year, in whatever capacity that may be.

    "This is a truly sensitive, artistic, and dedicated group of young people, and that is plain to see in their work!"    

    "And may we love each other with a sincere heart" ~ last line from Ubi Caritas, translated from Latin.

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  • Stevens Elementary’s Salute to Veterans

    Posted by Communications staff on 11/11/2020 1:30:00 PM

    Small American flags line the walkway leading to Stevens Elementary, which is in the background Veterans Day may only take up one day on the calendar, but Stevens Elementary is using the entire week to celebrate our nation’s servicemen and servicewomen.

    All this week, American flags will line the walkway leading to the school’s main entrance, reminding everyone of the importance of the week. Staff and teachers are also wearing yellow or pinning yellow ribbons to their clothing to symbolize support for our troops.

    On Monday and Tuesday, kindergarten and first grade classrooms welcomed airmen from Fairchild Air Force Base as special guest readers. Each airman read a story that explained the significance of Veterans Day, and how many different people in our lives could be veterans. The airmen even answered questions from the class about their time in the service.

    Stevens’ assistant secretary Kat Thomas – whose husband is retired from the military – organized this special visit. She’s happy to provide students with this kind of experience.

    “A lot of these students have probably never seen a person in uniform before, or probably know a veteran," she said. "This week will help give them a broader understanding of why we celebrate Veterans Day and show them they might interact with a veteran every day and don’t even know it.”

    Thank you to all the servicemen and servicewomen who answer the call of duty, and sacrifice for our nation. You are appreciated!

    An airment sits at a desk and reading a book using a projector in front of kindergarteners sitting on the floor An airwomen is standing in front of group of sitting children in a gymnasim while holding a book

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  • Contact Tracing 101

    Posted by Communications staff on 11/9/2020

    The goal is simple: Keep people safe.

    To reach it, Health Services Director Becky Doughty has amassed a team of super sleuths. Six school nurses volunteered to be contact tracers – putting in long hours, seven days a week, to track down those who need to quarantine to keep COVID out of our schools.

    It’s a process they’ve refined over time.

    SPS nurse Meredith Clarke works alongside other district contact tracers in the SPS boardroom.

    “We are so dialed in right now,” Doughty said. “No one escapes these ladies.”

    When a staff member feels they have been exposed to COVID or tested positive, they reach out to their supervisor, just like they do if they were sick. Supervisors fill out a form specially created by Tech Services, which populates a spreadsheet. The contact tracers call the people on the spreadsheet one by one to help determine who they may have exposed to the virus by being within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more. Then the contact tracers call all of those people and interview them.

    “We’ve connected with 700 to 800 people since the beginning of September,” Doughty said. “It’s like solving a mystery, putting all the pieces together.”

    As nurses, the contact tracers are able to help triage and walk people through any medical concerns. They also connect people with HR and help explain their leave options. The contact tracers develop an ongoing relationship with those they reach out to. People often call back as they think of other potential exposures or COVID-related questions.

     “We really provide wrap-around services for them,” Doughty said.

    One case, therefore, can be open for several days. It’s a big job, but essential.

    “It’s the way we identify who might get COVID and ensure they are not in our schools if that should happen,” Doughty said. “We are being very aggressive – in a good way. I’d much rather have people in quarantine than risk more potential exposure.”

    When you look at the COVID dashboard, she added, high numbers of people in quarantine means the contact tracers are doing their job well, and keeping people safe.

    The best thing people can do to help is to make sure they’re keeping 6 feet of physical distance.

    “If we all maintained that, we wouldn’t have to quarantine anybody,” she said. “Our goal is to help our colleagues and students get through this safely. We’re all in this together. We will get through it.”

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