More SPS Stories

  • Let’s talk: First graders chat with city official about support of basic needs

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 11/15/2019

    City Councilwoman Kate Burke talks with students

    As part of their studies on societal organization, first graders in Libby’s Language Immersion program got to hear from a local official.

    City Councilwoman Kate Burke talked with students about how Spokane supports the needs and wants of its community members. She said she tries to get out to a classroom to speak at least once a week.

    Burke discussed what it takes to be elected and how important it is to vote.

    “I went door to door and talked with people about my ideas for making the city a better place, and then asked for their support,” she said. “I knocked on 10,000 doors!”

    Students had lots of ideas about what city council members do: “Help homeless people.” “Make sure people have clean air and water.” “Help people be healthy.”

    Burke talked about the role of local officials in supporting a community’s most important needs: water, food, shelter and clothing. She shared some of the reasons why people are homeless and some of the ways a city can help.

    “I believe it is a city’s job to help people who have no shelter,” she said.

    Students had lots of questions and eagerly shared their own experiences.

    “Sometimes I see homeless people in my neighborhood,” one boy said, “and I run to my house and give them an apple.”

    Burke said that is a good way to help, and that she likes to keep socks in her car to give to people in need.

    One student innocently wondered of it’s OK to not help someone.

    “It’s not always possible for people to help out,” Burke said, “but if you can help someone, you should.

    “It’s important to look out for each other.”

    The Language Immersion program is working to achieve International Baccalaureate status by teaching students to “think for themselves and take responsibility for their learning as they explore local and global issues and opportunities in real-life contexts.”

    City Councilwoman Kate Burke talks with students

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  • Staff room serenity at Logan

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 10/8/2019

    Logan staff room

    Behind the door to the Logan Elementary staff room awaits an oasis. Calm colors and gentle nature sounds greet you while a comfortable chair beckons from the corner.

    It wasn’t always like this. Messy and neglected, the space had become a bit of an afterthought. But after an inspiring workshop through Kaiser on health and well-being – plus a mini grant of $1,500 – Principal Assistant Penny Capko and teachers Kathleen Rountree and Amy Berube decided the staff room was ripe for a redo.

    “We wanted to create a self-care space where you can go, that’s calm, to help take care of your mental health,” Capko said.

    The women took some time to brainstorm, then did a deep clean. They spent a day moving and painting furniture and then got creative. There’s a little activity center with a mini step machine, yoga mats, and resistance bands. They hung pictures and put a fake plant in the bathroom. Strung with fairy lights, the “woot woot wall” is a place to leave a note or compliment for a colleague. Another wall holds pockets filled with affirmations and encourages staff to take what they need -- Confidence? Patience? Hope? -- when they need a little boost.

    “It all came together beautifully,” Capko said. “The feedback has been amazing.”

    “Now I see lots more people come in here,” Rountree added. “And people are taking better care of it. Even if they just walk through, it’s so much nicer.”

    Watch the video here.

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  • Puppet power

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 5/29/2019


    The sixth graders descended on the primary classroom and got right to work. Swiftly erecting a 5-foot frame, they hung black curtains and then disappeared within. The class quieted, waiting. Then suddenly, above the curtains, appeared two cheery, wide-mouthed puppets.

    Stevens Elementary sixth graders Jonathan Aguirre, Meadow Loer, Abigail Howie, Hanna Taggart, Hayli Rios, Mahana Richards, Kimora Estrada and Nevaeh Jones make up the S.O.A.R. Puppeteer Program, whose focus is to provide lessons on social/emotional topics to younger students and to help create a positive school climate. S.O.A.R. stands for “safe, organized, act responsibly and respectful” – Stevens’ schoolwide expectations.

    “Students respond so strongly to messages from their peers,” said Fondra Magee, Stevens counselor and puppet program facilitator. “I love the combination of peers and puppets. Puppets are powerful.”

    Tuesday’s performance taught third graders about conflict resolution, “a fancy way of saying ‘settling arguments’,” the Muppet-like puppets explained. Using a pre-recorded lesson, they talked about the importance of understanding and sharing feelings, and tried mightily to get the class involved in a sing-along.

    Chosen because of their experience as role models and their glowing teacher recommendations, the puppeteers have many reasons for why they joined the group.

    “I wanted to be able to help teach lessons to little kids so they can learn to solve problems,” Abigail said.

    “I really like to see kids smile,” added Hanna.

    The puppeteers agreed that having to hold your arms above your head for the length of the show is one of the most challenging parts. Also, your thumb can get pretty sore from moving the mouth. Besides developing strong arms, they have also become skilled in displaying puppet emotion.

    “You can use the rods to make the arms cover its eyes, or make the head nod to show sadness,” explained Mahana. “You can bounce the arms to show excitement. You really learn to exaggerate expressions.”

    The group has done about a dozen shows so far, mostly to Stevens primary students, but also at Maplewood Gardens retirement home. Though their time as puppeteers is coming to a close with the end of school, the students are confident in the mark they will leave on Stevens.

    “Some kids look up to older kids,” Neveah said, “so it’s nice to be able to be a positive role model for them.”

    students smile   puppeteers and puppets

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  • Braille Boss: Second grader shines in North American challenge

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 5/13/2019

    russell winkler

    Last year, everything was hard for Russell Winkler. Spelling, proofreading, reading comprehension—every facet of the Braille Challenge proved too much of a challenge. He was a first grader competing against third graders. He needed more practice.

    This year was a different story. Only the proofreading proved tricky. And, Russell said, competing in the challenge was totally worth it.

    “Because of winning!” he said.

    Russell is a finalist in the 2019 Braille Challenge, having scored in the top 10 in the nation.

    “When I heard I was a finalist, I was acting too crazy,” said Russell, a second grader at Garfield Elementary School. “I was bouncing off the walls!”

    Lonna Gately, SPS teacher for the visually impaired, heard about the challenge and thought it would be a good motivator to help Russell continue working hard on his braille reading.

    The Braille Challenge draws about 1,400 participants from throughout the US and Canada. The top 10 finishers from each of five age groups move on to the finals, which will happen on June 21 and 22 at the University of Southern California.

    Russell admits he’s a bit nervous about the trip. It has nothing to do with flying or the possibility of an even tougher proofreading task though.

    “When I win, I’ll have to walk up on the stage alone,” he said, confident that this is the only outcome of the trip.

    Gately smiled. “He’s worked really hard to earn this trip,” she said. “I’m so proud of him.”

    “You think I deserve it, Lonna?” Russell asked.

    “You absolutely deserve it.”

    russell winkler     Lonna Gately and Russell Winkler

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  • Of Mice and Motorcycles

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 4/26/2019

    students at assembly

    Longfellow is full of mice. On Thursday afternoon, rows of them crowded the multipurpose room, positively squeaking in anticipation.

    The staff and student body eagerly donned mouse ears to kick off “One School, One Book.” A school-wide book club, the program will have every member of the Longfellow Elementary community – students, teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, custodians, support staff – reading the same book for the next month. The name of the book was revealed during a special assembly.

    The first clue was the mouse ears.

    Night custodian Isaac Presley rode into the gym on the next clue, a motorcycle.

    Instructional coach Ariane Stumbaugh asked the crowd: “Can you figure out the title?”

    Students squealed and then shouted it together: “The Mouse and the Motorcycle!” 

    “Our goal is to unite our community around the conversation and the experience of reading the exact same book at the same time,” Stumbaugh explained.

    Each student received a copy of the Beverly Cleary book. There will be trivia questions and prizes after each section, a door-decorating contest and family literacy celebration at the end of May.

    Kindergartener Alexa was happy about starting her first chapter book. Her classmate flipped through his new possession, glad to see it contains pictures.

    Fifth grader Adan likes the idea of everyone reading the same book together.

    “It’s kind of exciting,” she said.

    students at assembly   students at assembly

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  • Chasing your dreams

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 4/2/2019

    Rogers classroom

    Sometimes all it takes is for someone else to believe in you. That is the premise behind “Project 100 Percent College Application Completion, which encourages Rogers High School seniors to complete an application for a post-graduate program at a 2- or 4-year college, trade school, apprenticeship, or the military.

    This year, 94 percent have taken that step, up from 80 percent the previous year. The program, which is giving students the tools, resources, and supports to connect them to their dreams, is funded by a grant from the Spokane Public Schools Foundation.

    “We’re working to match students with appropriate supports so they can get accepted to their first choice of school,” said Assistant Principal Joe Phipps, who applied for a grant.

    Rogers invited every student who completed the FAFSA and at least one application to celebrate. The success of the program has generated some well-deserved attention for Rogers and its seniors.
    NOTE: Read an earlier post about this topic in "Rogers seniors earn sweet rewards" below.
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  • Pass the chapati: TCS students host Kenyan dinner

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 2/14/2019

    tcs hosts kenyan dinner

    At The Community School, students spend the week between semesters investigating an interest. Some go rock climbing or winter hiking. Others learn book binding, song recording, or stagecraft at the Civic Theatre. And last week, one group hosted a Kenyan dinner for 75.

    The event idea came from a collaboration with Dan Todd, founder of Inland Curry, who hosts an international dinner series featuring guest cooks from Spokane's refugee and immigrant communities. The profits from each dinner are donated to the refugee family, while attendees get to hear the family’s story and enjoy authentic cuisine from their homeland. For the TCS students, the Kenyan dinner was an ideal way to cap off a semester of learning about human rights, particularly as they apply to immigrants and refugees.

    As hosts, students took charge of everything: purchasing and prepping the food, preparing the space, promoting the event, and meeting with refugee Maureen Ambani to hear her story and devise a creative way to help her tell it.

    “It was so interesting to learn about where she came from and how this will impact her. It gives purpose to what we’re doing,” said senior Katelyn Devine. “I had so many questions for her.”

    As she finished up some of the decorations, senior Monet Bailey talked about her motivation to help out with the dinner.

    “We did a project about the number of refugees coming into the US. My father immigrated from Belize,” she said. “I like being able to help people in need, spread awareness, and then see the outcome.”

    Despite an evening of inclement weather, people packed the unCommons at TCS. Students had constructed a large indoor tent using swaths of fabric in the colors of the Kenyan flag, and decorated it with twinkle lights to create a fun and intimate ambiance.

    Guests ate at long tables, family style, and were waited on by students. During the dinner, Maureen shared her story of fleeing with her daughter from an abusive husband. Their road to Spokane was long, but she said she has found a home here.

    “People don't believe it, but it really is true: this is the land of opportunity,” she said. “I've seen it.”

    The event raised more than $700 for Maureen and her daughter.

    “This school is really about working with the community and helping others,” Devine said. “And while we’re doing that we’re also learning. That’s the best thing about it.”

    students help out at dinner

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  • Bomb robot reboot

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 1/11/2019

    students learn about a bomb robot

    Kim Taylor is a problem solver. When she saw a demonstration of the Spokane Police Department’s bomb disposal robot at a recent STEM fair, she thought its grasping mechanism could be improved.

    “The end effectors didn’t have much functionality,” the Sacajawea Middle School teacher said. “I thought we could create a kind of boot with different tread patterns that would increase surface area and static friction. It would give it the ability to pick up smaller things – similar to the way a person would change shoes depending on the type of terrain they’re running on.”

    Two years ago, Taylor created an advanced 8th grade engineering class at Sac. Since every student project centers around community service, outfitting the robot was a perfect fit.

    On Thursday, Officer Toby Bryer of the SPD bomb squad brought the robot to Sac to demonstrate its capabilities. Used to remotely detonate bombs, the robot has four cameras, and can reach more than 10 feet. It also has the ability to go up and down stairs.

    “Hopefully you’ll design something functional and that gives us more positive control,” Bryer told the class. “If it works well, we would like to share it nationally. It will be inexpensive to reprint a part if it breaks.”

    With their end-of-semester deadline just days away, students got right to work. They asked questions and took measurements, then gathered in small groups to start brainstorming. They’ll use a computer-aided design program to hone their pencil sketches, and then print the result with a 3D printer filled with a rubberized plastic filament.

    Designing parts to improve the functionality of bomb disposal robots is a weighty task for a middle schooler, but the pre-engineering students took it in stride.

    “It’s important that we, as eighth graders, get opportunities like this to help out in the community,” said student Sarah Hegde.

    “It’s great that people trust us and our ability,” added student Hallie Brigham. “And that they know we take things seriously.”

    students working   students working   students working

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  • Have a seat: Encouraging classroom collaboration

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 11/27/2018

    students use different types of seating

    To help her students learn to work together and build community, Hamblen Elementary teacher Mariah Ochoa has made it easy for them to just pull up a seat.

    A grant from the SPS Foundation allowed her to purchase a number of lightweight stacking stools. Her first graders know that they can just grab one any time they are in math or reading centers and want to sit together to work with a partner.

    “This helps them develop the social aspects of working together,” she said. “It’s a skill you need to have in any profession.”

    Besides the stools, Ochoa offers her students an array of seating choices and accoutrements: rocking chairs, bouncy bands, wobble stools, and plastic seat cushions. These all allow students to bounce or wiggle while they work, without disrupting others. Her classroom also has low, portable tables for working together on the floor, or to create a standing desk.

    “Whatever a kid needs,” she said.

    The benefits have not gone unnoticed by the students. They talked about it as a class and agreed that the rocking chairs help them think better and focus more, and help them calm down. Students said they like how the stools allow them to work together.

    “This has helped me meet the needs of all my learners,” Ochoa said. “It’s worked.”

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  • Featured fruit is apparently quite delicious

    Posted by Community Relations staff on 11/8/2018

    pallets of pears

    About 145 miles west of Spokane, Karen Beller cultivates a cornucopia. Her 128 acres grow apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, berries and table grapes – a harvest that includes the Sweet Louise, a unique variety of apple found only on her orchard.

    This month, SPS students will have a chance to sample one of the products from Beller’s Bunny Laine Orchard, as her pears are the November Harvest of the Month.

    “I grow four varieties of pears, including Concorde pears,” she explained. “The Concorde pear is a ‘dessert pear’ with a somewhat crisp texture. They are difficult to grow so they are not grown by many commercial growers in Washington.”

    Beller’s parents started Bunny Laine, which includes a 40-acre certified organic orchard, in 1974. She took over ownership in 2007, and has just two or three steady employees from June through October. Bunny Laine is part of a five-farm cooperative of small-scale orchards that pools resources to sell and haul their fruit on the west side of the mountains from Rochester to Bellingham, and on the east side in Spokane.

    “Buying local is so important to the overall economy in Washington state,” she said, “as well as to small communities, consumers and farmers.”

    Beller appreciates the Harvest of the Month program’s bountiful benefits.

    “It allows small-scale farms an opportunity to provide quality fruit to the schools,” she said, “and it lets kids try out new fruit varieties that they may not know about except through this program.”

    In addition to the lunchroom salad bar, students can find Concorde pears this month in honey cinnamon baked pears with yogurt and granola.

    pears   orchard

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