More SPS Stories

  • TEC seniors highlighted

    Posted by Communications staff on 6/10/2021

    TEC  The Summit Learning blog recently featured TEC/Bryant for its work to support students with mentors.

    "Each of the 14 graduating seniors at TEC at Bryant have worked closely with a mentor throughout their high school journey. They meet at least weekly—and often more frequently—to connect on topics related to school and life. They also focus on goal-setting and work together on strategies for students to reach their goals," the blog says.

    Read the whole story here.

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  • SPS Subs: Ready to Support Students

    Posted by Communications staff on 6/4/2021

    sub at work! In a typical year, Spokane Public Schools benefits from the varied talents of about 1,000 substitutes. Due to COVID, the pool is down to about 500 certificated teacher, paraeducator and secretarial subs, of which, 200-240 are working on any given day. We are deeply grateful for the hard work of these essential staff members who are willing to face the unknown on a moment’s notice. Subs like Aaron Bracht and Todd Cogswell made it possible for SPS to welcome students back to in-person learning.

    Certificated substitute Aaron Bracht typically works in secondary student classrooms. This year, however, he has taken on a variety of assignments, always with a positive, upbeat attitude. His commitment to long-term sub positions provided consistency in the classroom. 

    “This year has been challenging for everyone,” Bracht said. “Despite this, I’ve seen our students and staff act with respect, grace, and kindness across the district. From online art classes and the ABLE program at Shaw, to the day camp at Indian Trail, to special education at Sacajawea, to the wonderful Odyssey kids and I’ve been working with since February, our students and staff have faced the demands of this year with a level of grace and resilience that has repeatedly impressed me.”

    Paraeducator substitute Todd Cogswell always seeks out placements where that can be most useful and helpful to students. He takes on long term after long term assignment. Though COVID raised so many questions this year, Todd was undeterred, calling Sub Services in August to ask where he was needed the most. 

    “I enjoy being a sub. It is rewarding and I have the privilege of helping to educate young adults,” Cogswell said. “I have also had a chance to meet and get to know some fine people who work for our district.”

    As we work toward historically low class sizes this fall, that means more teachers, more classrooms and more needs for subs. SPS is currently hiring for every substitute position: certificated, paraeducator, secretarial, custodian, Nutrition Services and Express. Please encourage anyone you know to apply for a sub position!

    sub at work!

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  • A Cut Above: Students Learn the Art of Chinese Paper Cutting

    Posted by Communications staff on 5/17/2021

    paper cutting Yvonne Quigley’s students are learning to cut corners – literally.

    Since returning to in-person learning, members of Quigley’s Chinese class have been exploring the ancient folk art of paper cutting.

    “People find comfort, happiness, and hope in expressing themselves in paper cutting,” Quigley said.

    To create their designs, students worked with paper patterns, an engraving knife, and a self-healing mat.

    “The proper usage of knife is critical,” Quigley explained. “Students quickly learned how to hold it and press hard to carve into the paper. The key is to make sure all parts of the design are connected. The parts to be cut out are independent.”

    Chinese paper cutting themes include weddings, holidays, seasons, flowers, birds, and “all aspects of life in general,” Quigley said.

    Most students finished their project in a period or two, depending on the complexity of their design, but were eager to tackle another.

    “This is the funnest art project that I’ve done in my whole life,” said Katelynn Frear, an eighth grader from Sacajawea Middle School. “It’s hard at first but after a minute you get used to the movements and it comes out beautifully. It makes it way funnier when you are not doing these kinds of things at home and have to figure out things yourself.”

    “I was really excited to do the paper cutting because by cutting out an ox, I got to understand and learn a lot about Chinese culture,” said Sac eighth grader Kai Gerlick. “The art also served as a great way to show the whole school what we do in that class and show off our art skills. It is much better to do these projects in person because you can talk about the project and the culture with other people which helps me learn a lot about China.”

    Sacajawea plans to expand their Chinese program to seventh grade this fall, giving more students a chance to cut in to Chinese culture.

    student with paper cutting project   student with paper cutting project  

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  • Ferris student helps organize event for Black and Asian solidarity

    Posted by Communications staff on 5/12/2021

    Flyer for the Black and Asian Solidarity Event, Saturday, May 15. 2-3:30 p.m. In Maya Angelou’s poem Human Family, there is a line that says, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

    That’s the sentiment Ferris High senior Rosie Zhou hopes people take away from the upcoming Black and Asian Solidarity virtual event. The event will take place via Zoom from 2-3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 15. Register for the event here.

    “We want people to see that we are not each other’s enemy,” said Rosie. 

    Rosie has been organizing this event with Rogers and Ferris Black Student Union advisor Pastor Shon David; Shon’s niece Tere Graham, who is the Program Manager for Social Justice Programming at Gonzaga University; Innovation High School senior Jada Richardson; and Rosie’s own mother Ping Ping, who is a sociology professor at SFCC.

    This group hopes the event fulfills two purposes: to acknowledge the strained, and often fractured, relationship between Black and Asian communities; and to discuss how the two groups can move forward together as a united front against racism.

    “Historically, there have been lots of tensions between Black and Asian communities…We want people to recognize that, and we want to talk about it,” said Rosie. “These conversations may be very tough, but they are so important. They’re the first step towards actually uniting.”

    Standing up against racial injustices sounds like a lot for a high school senior to take on. Not for Rosie.

    “It’s impossible for me not to care about it,” she said. “Growing up as an Asian American, I have felt my race is something I can’t ignore.”

    When talking about feeling the need to assimilate with her mostly white counterparts, Rosie added, “At the end of the day, you’re never really going to be assimilated because the color of your skin is always going to be there, and people are always going to look at you in a certain way.”

    Rosie and her fellow activists are busy planning other events to help lift and highlight the Asian American Pacific Inlander (AAPI) population in Spokane, including an AAPI Heritage Day on Saturday, June 12 – the day before Rosie graduates from Ferris.

    “[Activism] has become a big, big part of my identity. It’s just who I am now,” she said. “I just wake up every day and I feel like there’s so much to be done. I just want to help out in any way possible.”

    Register for the Black and Asian Solidarity virtual event on Saturday, May 12, here

    To find other AAPI events happening in Spokane, head to

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  • Browne students, local artist team up to create unique artwork

    Posted by Communications staff on 5/10/2021

    Artist Anne Hedin talking with student about drawing

    What’s it like to be a professional artist? We all might have some idea, but we don’t know for sure until we actually meet and speak to one.

    Students at Browne Elementary got to do just that last month, and even got the unique opportunity to help create one-of-a-kind artwork.

    All this was set in motion at the beginning of 2020, when artist and North Idaho resident Anne Hedin received a grant from Spokane Arts to help bring contemporary art into the lives of elementary students. Anne, a former art teacher, planned to do this by collaborating with 4-6 grade students to create two large-scale canvas art pieces.

    Fast forward one year and a pandemic later, Anne and the students at Browne finally got to bring their art project to fruition.

    “My wish for these young artists is to know there’s no right or wrong way when it comes to art,” said Anne.

    For Anne, being an artist is more than sitting in front of a canvas and painting the first thing that comes to mind. It’s about opening yourself to the artistic process and finding value in all of your ideas – because you never know what fruit they might yield.

    To help get the creative juices flowing, Anne spent a day teaching the students about Spanish artist Joan Miró, whose most famous works employ common shapes and primary colors.

    Figure, Dog, Birds by Joan Miró
    "Figure, Dog, Birds" by Joan Miró, 1946. Photo courtesy of

    “Miró was the first artist who inspired me to draw and paint,” Anne said, “He uses a lot of shapes, so his art is easy for students to grasp and understand – it’s not too intimidating!”

    Anne then had the students draft a pencil drawing inspired by Miró’s use of simple shapes, and after providing some artistic feedback, she had the kids draw their drawing on a large pre-painted canvas.

    Kid sitting cross-legged drawing on canvas  Anne Hedin and student sitting down and drawing on canvas  Student drawing cartoon bees on canvas

    Once each student added their individual flair to the canvas, Anne spent the next couple weeks adding pops of color and readying the canvas for display. The two canvas made their world debuts at the Wonder Building downtown. Anne was thrilled by how they turned out.

    “They are so whimsical and have so much energy! I can say with certainty there is no artwork out there like it.”

    Some Browne students Anne worked with even brought their families to show off their drawings.

    Student showing her mom their drawing on the hanging canvas  Anne Hedin talking to student and mom in front of hanging canvas

    “The beauty of these canvases is each student gets a piece that’s entirely theirs,” said Anne.

    Anne will bring the canvas to art shows and workshops around the region with the goal of selling them. As an artist, she says there’s nothing like selling your first work of art, and she can’t wait for the students at Browne to experience that same joy.

    “Proceeds of the sale will be split into thirds,” Anne said, “One third will go to the Wonder Building, one third to me, and one third to Browne Elementary so they can buy art supplies.”

    The students also helped create smaller paintings that will be in the library for kids to check out and take home like library books.

    Two smaller canvas paintings hanging on a brick wall.  Student and artist collaborated canvas hanging on wall

    Learn more about Anne’s SAGA grant here.


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  • SPS therapist’s new children’s book celebrates growth mindset

    Posted by Communications staff on 5/3/2021

    the cover page of the book, "the shades of you" featuring a young ballerina and her shadow in three different colors Willard Elementary’s mental health therapist Jenny Keenan can add a new job title to her resume: published author.

    “I've always jotted down stories and read them to my daughters when they were getting ready for bed,” said Jenny. “Then last year, some of my friends were like, ‘Jenny, you really need to turn your stories into books’, so I just decided 'Why not?'”

    One year of hard work and perseverance later, Jenny self-published her first children’s book, “The Shades of You." The story is about a little girl who loves ballet but becomes upset when she notices other dancers are better at some of the moves and techniques than she is. The book then follows her as she tries to process her difficult feelings using different colors.

    “Her bedroom changes [colors] to match her feelings,” Jenny said, “so when she gets sad, it turns this dark, deep blue and when she gets mad and she's throwing her stuffed animals the room turns red.”

    Eventually, the little ballerina learns that life isn’t about whether you’re the best at something, but whether you’re willing to learn and grow in order to become the best version of yourself.

    Jenny said the ballerina’s story teaches kids about the growth mindset, which celebrates embracing challenges, learning from criticism and finding lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

    “As a therapist, I work with so many little anxious, perfectionists and teaching them the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset (the belief our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static and we can’t change or improve in any way) is very important.”

    Jenny added, “What I think is great about books and stories is it's different than just your mom or dad talking to you about something. Because you’re reading about a character, you can take a step back and look at things through their perspective, which can make you stop and think, ‘Hey, I really related to that.’”

    Jenny had to tap into her own growth mindset when she set out to publish “The Shades of You” last year. She reached out to several publishers, and while they declined to publish her book, they still pushed her to not give up on her dream.

    “Getting those rejections was a little disheartening,” Jenny said, “but they gave me really great feedback about the story. They said, ‘Keep pursuing this, this is a great story!’”

    After Jenny decided to self-publish her book, she found friends and friends-of-friends who could help her navigate the unfamiliar process.

    “There's so much publishing lingo, like making sure there’s bleed on the page. I didn’t know what that meant!” said Jenny. “But I ended up working with a friend of a friend of a friend who knew what that meant and was super excited to help with the project." 

    She added that where else but Spokane would you find so much help and support in your own community? “It's so cool that people get excited about each other's projects and get on board to make them happen.”

    Now Jenny’s labor of love can be read by people around the world.

    “It's just going so much farther than I anticipated,” she said. “This is an opportunity to get inside all these different people's homes and help them have these kinds of these conversations with their kids or their grandkids or whatever. That is the most incredible thing.”

    Jenny’s advice for those looking to pursue a passion but aren’t sure if they can pull it off: Just do it!

    “We are all more capable than we think we are. If you put your mind to anything, you can make it happen.”

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  • To Name a Few: Committee Selects Finalists for New School Names

    Posted by Communications staff on 4/30/2021

    “Words have meaning and names have power.” ~Anonymous

    school names?
    After much research, deep discussion, and community conversations, a dedicated committee has whittled more than 1,400 school name submissions down to just a dozen.

    “There were so many amazing suggestions with great rationale. So many examples of people who did fantastic things,” said Stephanie Lundberg, future principal of the new northeast middle school, and current principal of Holmes Elementary. 

    For the first time in the district’s history, SPS will name four schools at the same time: new middle schools on the northeast, northwest and south sides of SPS, and a new facility for On Track Academy. 

    Lundberg was part of the committee made up of SPS staff and students tasked with determining the three name finalists for each new building.

    “I felt a huge responsibility,” Lundberg said. “It is a huge honor to be part of this process, to be part of something that will impact our community for such a long time.”

    “A school name can bring a sense of dreaming for students,” added committee member Crimson Rice, a freshman at Shadle Park High School. “If you pick a good name, students can be inspired and want to leave their own legacy.”

    The group’s first task was to set priorities and guidelines. Reading through the list of current SPS schools, they noticed an imbalance in those named for women, and for people of varying ethnicities. An additional focus was on geographical references near where the schools will be located. 

    “Our schools need to represent all students,” Lundberg said. “So many people made suggestions, and there was so much passion behind the entries. But we kept coming back to the focus. Our true north was to diversify the names of SPS schools.”

    The group met four times for about two hours each time. After studying all the suggestions, committee members each chose their top three and shared their perspectives with the group. Spirited discussions led to more research and a vote for the top five contenders. After even more research, the group settled on three finalists for each site.

    “We all took it very seriously,” Rice said. “We looked at all the details, all the ins and outs.”

    “We really took into consideration all the options,” Lundberg said. The new building principals sought additional input from their own schools’ planning committees to be sure the names align with the mission and vision of the new buildings. The public can share feedback at the May 12 board meeting.

    The SPS School Board will make the final name selections May 26. 

    “I can’t wait to see what the board picks!” Rice said.

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  • After School Special: CTE clubs challenge and inspire Sacajawea students

    Posted by Communications staff on 4/27/2021

    Student transplanting hydroponics to pots Despite running two demanding extracurricular clubs already, computer science teacher Gary Gillespie says the only thing that keeps him from starting more clubs at Sacajawea Middle are the number of hours in the day.

    “If there was more time,” Gary said, “I would probably run five more clubs going every day after school, Monday through Friday.”

    Gary’s two after school clubs, VR/Coding Club and MakerSpace, meet six days a month, sometimes in the morning and sometimes after school.

    “We want to provide opportunities for the kids to make it fit in their busy schedules,” Gary said, “and it provides a niche for those kids who aren’t athletics- or activities-based. It gives them something they can really dive into.”

    While the VR/Coding students work on a lot of STEM-related stuff like reprogramming microprocessors and coding for robots and drones, the MakerSpace students do a lot of, as the name insinuates, making. 

    “I’m really looking for ways for them to learn and to build,” said Gary.

    Colorful acrylic pen In the time Sac students have been back in person, Gary’s MakerSpace students have started growing hydroponics to give as gifts and will shortly move on to whittling blocks of wood and acrylic into functioning pens (like the one pictured right).

    Next fall, Gary hopes to get students working on 3D printers again, as well as teach them about photography and the art of leather work.

    “I still have my leather-tooled wallet I made my sophomore year of high school,” he said. “I just want them to be able to design and create and have something they can take with them.”

    It’s those types of 21st century skills that are the cornerstone of SPS’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum 

    “It’s hands-on and lets students use a different part of their brains than if they were behind a computer with headphones on,” Gary said.

    Student working on hydroponic starter kits Regardless of the club, Gary makes sure the students have a voice in what they do and learn.

    “A lot of times, it’s asking them ‘what interests you?’, ‘what do you want to try?’, and then we go from there. You don’t know what you don’t know until you try it.”

    Learn more about CTE at

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  • On Track Academy expands neighborhood tree canopy, earns Tree Campus honor

    Posted by Communications staff on 4/20/2021

    On Track Academy using a pickax to dig a hole for a new tree sapling The perfect time to plant a tree may have been 20 years ago, but students in northeast Spokane are doing the next best thing – leading an effort to plant dozens of trees in the neighborhood surrounding their school that will stand tall 20 years from now.

    After researching the health of the urban tree canopy in northeast Spokane in relation to other areas of the city, On Track Academy (OTA) students learned that their neighborhood could use some new growth. They also learned that a healthier tree canopy not only provides environmental benefits like cleaner air and water quality, it can also increase property value, lower energy costs, and just generally make a neighborhood more livable.

    “We’ve been looking at this for a few months now, at which places needed a few more trees,” said OTA junior Brendan Kesler. “We started out writing letters and going up to every single house in the area around the school to find places where a tree made sense.”

    All this was done through a partnership with the Pacific Education Institute (PEI) in collaboration with the city of Spokane and a grant by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

    “We work with teachers to help them bring science out into the field,” said Mike Nepean, PEI’s Eastern Washington Field STEM coordinator. “In this particular case, the students are taking a solutions-based project approach to some research they’ve done. A big part for them was the social science piece. They learned that you can come up with a solution, but it’s not necessarily the solution that the community thinks they need or want at this time.”

    By sharing what they’d learned about the value of trees, students were able to persuade 24 homeowners that planting saplings would benefit their homes and their neighborhood.

    The project helped earn On Track Academy accreditation as a Tree Campus K-12 Founding Campus through the Arbor Day Foundation – making them one of just nine schools in the country with the distinction. The school created a “Tree Hero” committee of staff, students, and community members who will serve as ambassadors of the program. On Saturday, April 17, that committee worked with The Lands Council, Avista, and other sponsors to hand out free trees to all comers in an effort to further expand Spokane's urban tree canopy.

    Two On Track Academy students planting a tree sapling in a neighborhood yard  On Track Academy students looking and touching tree sapling before planting it in a neighborhood yard

    A couple days before that, OTA students and staff were busy digging holes in neighborhood yards to hold the new saplings. The planting was led by City of Spokane Urban Forestry professionals, including Katie Kosanke.

    “I’m totally over-the-moon thrilled about all the hard work [the students] have done,” she said. “We’ve been wanting to do more projects here in northeast Spokane, where we know the canopy cover is deficient and the community doesn’t get those environmental, social, or economic benefits that the trees provide.”

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  • Hamblen students collaborate to create eye-popping art wall

    Posted by Communications staff on 4/13/2021

    Colorful artwork made of construction paper hangs on the entry wall at Hamblen Elementary

    How do you create a piece of art that covers the entire entry wall at your school? By doing it together!

    Hamblen Elementary has a years-long tradition of collaborative art projects, where students from every grade create small artworks that when combined together, create a much larger masterpiece.

    “We really believe that art is an essential element of a comprehensive elementary experience,” said Principal Stefanie Heinen.

    Dozens of God's Eye artwork stitched together “We do a Family Art Night at Hamblen every year where different art projects will be set up around the school,” said Hamblen art teacher Stacey Gonzales. “Students and families would come in, follow the instructions on the tables and put together their artwork. Then me and [PTG volunteer] Desi Mowry would put those together to create the bigger piece.”

    “We’ve put together a quilt, a family tree and a God’s Eye for Family Art Night projects,” Stefanie said.

    This year, Stefanie, Stacey, and the rest of the Hamblen staff weren’t about to let a pandemic stop them from getting their students to create another eye-popping piece of art. So just like a lot of things this past year, they decided to do this year’s Family Art Night virtually.

    Students interested in participating in the Family Art Night project were sent home with an envelope containing strips and shapes cut out of colored paper and simple instructions. What they did with the paper after that was up to them. Then on the day of Family Art Night, Stacey and Desi joined the students online to help with their artwork and answer any questions.

    When the students brought their finished product back to school, Stacey said she was blown away.

    “A lot of the students were so creative with their pieces,” Stacey said. “I never would have thought to do three-dimensional shapes, but some students did.”

    The students’ pieces from Family Art Night are now all together and on display in Hamblen’s front entry to showcase their hard work and cooperation.

    Artwork made of construction paper art  3D construction paper artwork  Wall of construction paper artwork

    “Our students are so smart,” said Stefanie.

    “This project turned out better than I ever could have imagined,” added Stacey.

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