More SPS Stories

  • National School Counseling Week: Emily Magnuson and Alicia Shenefelt

    Posted by Kevin Dudley on 2/9/2024

    Emily Magnuson and Alicia Shenefelt

    Emily Magnuson is a counselor at Lewis & Clark High School, where she works with ninth graders and English Language Learners (ELL)—students of all high school grades who recently relocated to the United States.

    Emily’s been at Lewis & Clark since 2021 and has been a school counselor since 2017.

    As part of National School Counseling Week, Emily sat down with us to share her unique role.

    What are the needs of your students?
    With my ninth-grade students, I’d say the biggest needs are lessons on time management, communication, navigating social relationships and self-advocacy. I help them communicate accurately with their parents or guardians about their grades and help them stay ahead of things instead of playing catch up. I also do a lot of general time management process lessons with them to help them map out their time. That transition from middle school to high school can be difficult for some.

    With my English Language Learner students, it really depends on their situation and where they’re coming from. I’ve worked with a lot of refugee students and students who have lived in the U.S. for several years but are still receiving English services. The cultural complexities of joining a U.S. high school are very challenging. We also work on expectations, how we process things, how transcripts are evaluated, how credits are awarded—there’s a huge learning curve. I’ve also worked with kids who’ve never seen a computer before. That enrollment meeting and learning curve is going to look a lot different than a ninth grader transferring in from another school.

    Going from living in a refugee camp or different countries to our school system is a big change. The differences in dress, interaction, social/cultural norms, all those things are sitting in front of me. I’ve had students who’ve fled war torn areas, so, for instance, emergency protocols and drills can be very triggering. So, there are the nuts and bolts of the job like classes, credits, and learning, but there’s also the dynamic of becoming part of the U.S. culture and what our school system looks like. It just comes down to experience and empathizing with them and listening to their stories and getting to know them on an individual level.

    What kinds of things do you address when students come to your office?
    It’s such a wide spectrum. It’s anything from future planning careers and higher education and graduation planning to crisis response, mental health needs, students’ relationships, career goals, dealing with culture clashes. You name it, in an hour I can see all those things.

    What’s something the public might not know about school counselors?
    At their core, counselors are strong student advocates and have a very unique opportunity to support students in the in-between. When you think of school, you think of math, science, English. We’re the gel that holds all that together.

    The role of the school counselor has evolved and continues to do so. It’s so much more than organizing student schedules. Every child is important to us.



    Alicia Shenefelt is the ninth grade counselor at North Central High School, a place she’s been for the past four years. She has nine years of experience as a school counselor.

    As part of National School Counseling Week, Spokane Public Schools is featuring counselors from its schools all week. Alicia sat down with us recently to share what she sees everyday in her role at North Central.

    What are the needs of your high school students?
    Right now with freshman, we’re working on school behaviors like staying in class, getting assignments done, prioritizing, communicating, follow-through, responsibility, those kinds of things.

    We also have a ninth grade homework center, which is really rad. Staff help students with goals, grades, communication with teachers, advocating for themselves and just overall responsibility and accountability that is a step up from middle school.

    What do high school counselors focus on at each grade level?
    In 10th grade, it’s still a little bit more about fine tuning skills and building their academic confidence. By 10th grade hopefully they have some credits under their belt and we’re making bigger plans, which is fun.

    By junior year, a lot of different doors open. They can go to NEWTech, and On Track Academy opens up to students. We also get to talk about college and post-high school. Junior year is still the hardest academically, which is cool because they’re ready for it.

    Senior year is so much of making sure we’ve met every requirement, making sure that kids who are ready for college are getting their applications in and their FAFSA done. We communicate with parents a lot and answer all the questions that have to do with having a senior in high school.

    With such a large student body in our high schools, what’s the range of things counselors address?
    In just the last week alone, we’ve had things range from ‘My boyfriend broke up with me,’ or ‘I lost this paper,’ or ‘I’m having bad thoughts and I need help,’ and everything in between. We have some freshman who are still young in their minds, and that’s fine because it’s developmentally appropriate. So, it’s ‘My friend is mad at me,’ to ‘I can’t find my paper and my mom will be mad because my grade will be lower’ to ‘We’re going to be homeless tomorrow.’ So, we have a huge variety of needs, and that is the same for every grade level.

    There’s a big prioritizing piece for counselors. You can have a list of what you’re doing that day, but if a kid comes in with some big mental health needs or at-home needs, those things always come first. We never know who’s going to walk in the door.

    What is something the public might not know about high school counselors?
    A school counselor is kind of a gatekeeper. We’re not a mental health therapist, we’re not an academic specialist. We get to kind of field the different resources. When students come in the door, we find what will work for them. Oftentimes that helps us build a relationship and can have a check-in. We’re not a weekly meeting resource. We refer out to others for that.

    Over the four years, we do get to see each kid for a different reason, which is cool. We get to spend time with everybody.

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  • National School Counseling Week: Kitty Hennessey, Flett Middle School

    Posted by Kevin Dudley on 2/7/2024

    Kitty Hennessey

    Kitty Hennessey has approximately 30 years of experience as a school counselor. She’s been in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Currently, she is the counselor for all seventh grade students and half of the sixth grade class at Flett Middle School.

    As part of National School Counseling Week, we sat down with Kitty to learn about her role as a school counselor for middle school students.

    What are the needs of middle school students?
    This age is the biggest point of growth they will have physically, emotionally, with their brain, since they were born. If you think about the amount of change they’re dealing with, it’s huge. We have kids dealing with things developmentally and we try and figure out how to regulate, how to be a student, and all of this is on top of the needs in their environment, which can be hard.

    Middle school kids, because of their development, don’t always read things correctly. So, sometimes they interpret conflict or stress differently from what it might be in reality. They think people are mad at them a lot, when it’s really just, ‘Oh, I just told you sit down until ten after.’ We do a lot of helping them regulate those emotions.

    It’s also a hard time for parents. Kids are high energy at home and here. They need a lot of love and care. They need strong boundaries, high love and high expectations.

    From a counselor’s point of view, what’s the focus on this age level?
    First and foremost, it’s teaching them how to regulate. If they’re not regulated, they can’t do what they need to do, so we help them build the tools to regulate. Elementary schools do a nice job of starting that process and it’s really important for us to use the same lessons and put it into practice here so we can pass them on to high school.

    Discipline and those things are important and we’re part of that, but we’re here to help them prepare and learn the skills to get along.

    What growth do you see from grade 6 to 8?
    First of all, they’re not going to look the same. We can laugh at that, but it’s a big deal. It’s also emotional growth. They’ll make huge growth one year and I say, ‘I want you to remember this feeling.’ Then when they get to eighth grade, we can say, ‘Do you remember?’ and they say, ‘Yes!’ and they laugh at the feeling of growth.

    We teach that hopefulness, that things get better. Sometimes kids get stuck in it and don’t know how to get out and can’t see that life will get better.

    Social media is also really hard on our middle schoolers. They want it, but they can’t always make sense of it. It’s 24/7 and it’s a lot to ask of middle school kids.

    What’s something the public might not know about middle school counselors?
    Sometimes it’s like triage. I can set my day, but I never know what it’ll be like, which is part of what I like. I get to think about things deeply every day. Middle schoolers are hilarious. I cry, and there are things that should move you to tears because students are dealing with a lot. And then there are things that make me think deeply. I often think, ‘How can I be an agent for positive things?’ or something will present itself and I need to think creatively and be part of a plan. I would also say it’s one of the most hopeful age groups because you see change, and right before your eyes sometimes.

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  • National School Counseling Week: Mary Wetzel, Lincoln Heights Elementary

    Posted by Kevin Dudley on 2/5/2024

    Mary Wetzel in her office

    Mary Wetzel has been a school counselor for 11 years at Lincoln Heights Elementary and was previously a school counselor at Chase Middle School and Ferris High School. 

    As part of National School Counseling Week, Spokane Public Schools is featuring counselors from its schools all week. Mary sat down with us recently to share the ins and outs of her role at Lincoln Heights. 

    What are the general needs of your students?
    When a kid enters my office, I first look at their basic needs. ‘Are you hungry? Are you tired? Do you need a hug?’ That has really helped. Most of our kids just need stability and predictability just like any kid. We get a lot of support from our staff and the community with things like clothes and food and support with their academics. 

    Counselors are out and about in classrooms. What kinds of lessons are you teaching in elementary classrooms?
    We approach lessons differently for each grade level, but overall we look at mindfulness a lot and I support the Purposeful People lessons in elementary.  

    We know the research around mindfulness is really helpful for kids. We help them with managing behavior and emotions, and also perseverance and getting through things that are tricky for them, whether home is hard and they need to transition to school, or school is hard and they need to navigate their seven-plus hours here. We build those skills so when they move on to middle school, they can take a minute to take care of themselves first and then manage whatever thing they’re dealing with. 

    What is most rewarding about being a school counselor?
    The kids. Being in elementary school is really neat because I have many of these students for a long time. Watching them grow, watching them learn and be proud of themselves is great. We grow relationships with their parents and are partners with them in supporting their student.  

    Every morning my principal and I will stand at the front door to say good morning, and you can kind of just set their day and that is very rewarding. When you see them have their little wins and can be that person that can safely listen to them when they’re having a hard day, it’s rewarding. 

    We just want students in school and to spend time with them and take care of them. I think it’s a huge blessing that someone is letting us take care of their kids for hours in the day and we must honor that gift. 

    What is something the public might not know about school counselors?
    The job can be very different from building to building and day to day. Some days you’re a social worker, some days you’re teaching a lesson in the classroom. Some days you’re helping with day-to-day issues. There’s not a lot of predictability, and it’s never cut and dry. It’s responsive and you don’t always know what the day is like and how a kid will come to school. But we’re here for it. Our job is to be responsive to the needs of our kids and that can change minute to minute or week to week. 

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  • Public pickleball courts coming soon to a school near you

    Posted by Ryan Lancaster on 1/30/2024

    Pickleball racket, net, and balls.

    Pickleball was established as Washington state’s official sport in 2022 and is now the fastest growing sport in America.

    Local fans will have more places to work on their ace this summer, thanks to a Spokane Public Schools initiative to create 14 new public access courts across the city.

    After hearing from community members about their love of the game, SPS is making accommodations to existing tennis courts at Rogers, Shadle Park, and North Central high schools to create a total of six pickleball courts on the north side of the city. Ferris High School and Lewis and Clark’s Hart Field will each have two tennis courts adapted to make another eight pickleball courts available on the south hill. This will support both school-based programming and community use.

    Pickleball was born in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. While it can be played in or out of doors, outdoor courts in the Spokane area have been limited.

    “At Comstock Park, there will be 40 to 50 people playing pickleball,” said former SPS superintendent Dr. Gary Livingston, who has been playing pickleball since 2012. “So those courts at the high schools will definitely be used.”

    Livingston said the sport’s “forgiving nature” makes it accessible for retirees like he and his wife. It’s not too hard on the knees, and it’s a great social activity.

    “I participate in a group that plays pickleball twice a week,” he said. “This would be great for the community because the school district is contributing to the social connectivity of retired people.”

    While details regarding reservations and availability are still to come, Spokane Public Schools is proud to provide what the public has been asking for.

    “I think any time the school can give back to the community that supports it and continues to support it, is a powerful message,” said Livingston.

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  • A weekly meeting impacts both mentors and students

    Posted by Theresa Tanner on 1/26/2024 5:00:00 AM

    Amberly Turner and Felisa Bravo

    A weekly meeting impacts both mentors and students

    The time on Felisa Bravo’s calendar is blocked out on Mondays at lunchtime. No work meetings, no appointments are scheduled during that time.

    She has a standing engagement at Grant Elementary School: A one-on-one mentoring session with first grade student Amberly Turner. Every week during the school year, Felisa and Amberly eat lunch and enjoy an activity together.

    “We’ve been working together for about a year. She shows me different card games to play, and we collaborate on making pizza, cupcakes,” Felisa said, after tidying up the day’s Play-Doh creations and walking Amberly back to class.

    Felisa is one of 65 EPIC Mentors who meet with students in our district to serve as a positive, impactful adult in their lives.

    Patrick Donahue, Community Partnerships Manager for the Office of Family & Community Engagement, asked Felisa if she was interested in becoming a mentor last year. She had volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters when she was in college, and was willing to help SPS students in any way.

    “Whatever you need, let me know,” she said she told Pat.

    She had initially indicated a preference to work with an older, middle school-age student, but when she learned there was a need for a kindergarten mentor, she jumped in. “Amberly and I hit it off right away.”

    “I just like working with kids. Everything they see and experience is new, and they delight in that joy. It’s wonderful watching them experience something for the first time,” Felisa said.

    And the connections that Felisa has made go beyond Amberly. Other Grant students know and recognize her as Amberly’s mentor, and they’re just as excited to see her and other mentors. “They give us fist bumps, they tell me ‘You’re so beautiful, you look like Mother Gothel from ‘Tangled’!” Felisa laughed.

    But most important to Felisa is that Amberly looks forward to their weekly meetings. “She says, ‘I knew you were going to be here because it’s Monday!’” That consistency is important for Felisa to maintain. “We talk about planning for next time, because Amberly knows she can rely on me to be there.”

    Felisa works full-time and has two school-age children of her own, but carving out less than an hour a week to spend time with an imaginative kid like Amberly is a priority for her that brings joy to both of their lives.

    “Pick up the phone or send an email. There are so many ways to contribute,” Felisa said, encouraging other potential mentors to get involved. “Even if it’s not for you, you may know someone who would be a great fit. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

    We have students who are waiting to be matched with a mentor. Please visit EPIC Mentors to apply; an SPS Volunteer application is also required.

    Families can also Request an EPIC Mentor for their student.

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  • SPS thespians advance to state and national competitions

    Posted by Kevin Dudley on 1/24/2024

    Theater students

    More than 300 thespians from 11 regional schools descended on Lewis & Clark High School on Jan. 13 for the Washington State East Regional Thespy ™ event. Students from Lewis & Clark, Ferris, North Central and Rogers high schools qualified for the state and national competitions.

    Students performed and presented in front of a team of trained theatre arts adjudicators who scored students based on rubrics designed for performance and technical theatre categories.

    The performance category included duet musicals, a duet scene, a group musical, monologues, musical theatre and solo musical.

    The technical category included costume, costume design, lighting design, playwriting, props design, scenic design, short film, stage management, theatre marketing, and makeup design.Costume design

    Ninety-two SPS students qualified for the state competition in the performance category, and 17 stagecraft students qualified in the technical category.

    Forty-four students qualified for the national competition in the performance category and 16 qualified in the technical category.

    Find the names of all state and national qualifiers here.

    Congrats to our talented performers and stagecraft students!

    Find more photos courtesy of Richard Maguire here.

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  • Descendants of Sacajawea share history with middle school students

    Posted by Theresa Tanner on 11/22/2023 6:00:00 AM

    Rose Ann Abrahamson speaks in a microphone middle school students seated in the bleachers of a school gym.

    On Tuesday morning, nearly 1,000 middle school students gathered in their school gym to hear from some special guests.

    Their school, Sacajawea Middle School, was named after an Aqai Dika Shoshone woman who accompanied the Lewis & Clark expedition in 1805. The morning’s speakers were descendants of their school’s namesake: Rose Ann Abrahamson and her daughter, Lacey Bacon Abrahamson.

    Lacey, an artist and cultural consultant, helped redesign the school’s new Thunderbird logo to include Shoshone culture. Rose Ann is an educator, activist and cultural historian, who shared her great-great-great aunt’s history in a KSPS video presented at the school’s dedication ceremony in October.

    Rose Abrahamson speaks into a microphone in the gym of Sacajawea Middle School.

    Rose Ann and Lacey were invited to speak to the students to share Sacajawea’s history and the importance of her name. Rose Ann explained that just as there are many languages spoken by people in different parts of Europe, there are different Shoshone divisions with distinct languages and traditions.

    “When she was captured, her name was distorted,” Rose Ann said. But it’s important to say her name as the Aqai Dika – the Salmon Eaters – pronounced it, because names were given to 3-year-old children based on their habits or characteristics.

    “My name means ‘One who moves her head to the rhythm of the drum,’” explained Rose Ann, because she bounced her head when she heard music as a baby. “My daughter Lacey is called ‘Butterfly’ because she –” Rose Ann moved around quickly to demonstrate, fluttering across the floor of the gym, “–and she still does to this day! 

    “We are given a name for what we did. And Sacajawea’s name means ‘One who carries a burden,’ or ‘That is her burden.’” Sacajawea was named this because she carried a ‘wea’ or a burden basket, which was used during gathering season.

    Rose Ann explained that when a name is given to you, it serves you later in life.

    She shared that Sacajawea, who was captured by another tribe when she was 12 years old, traded for marriage to a Canadian-born fur trader, and became a mother by the time she was 16, journeyed thousands of miles across the North American continent as an interpreter and guide while carrying her infant son on her back.

    “I want you to fight for her name,” Rose Ann told the students. “If someone asks you what her name means, you better know it. You are the students of Sacajawea Middle School. You have to be brilliant and know her history.”

    Lacey Bacon-Abrahamson smiles for a photo with two eigtht grade students wearing Sacajawea Middle School t-shirts.

    While the students took away some thoughtful lessons, they also had fun during the interactive presentation. Rose Ann taught the group several phrases in Native American Sign Language, like “How are you?”, “What’s your name?” and “I love you.” Rose Ann and Lacey concluded with an Indigenous game between the grades with 8th graders demonstrating the best moves and quickest reflexes.

    The students were excited to share what they took away from the experience.

    “Meeting them is really special,” said ASB president Ava, noting that she liked the practice of naming children based on their characteristics. “It would be cool if we did that today.”

    “It’s important to get that perspective on how they lived and how they live now,” she added, grateful for the time Rose Ann and Lacey shared with her and her classmates. “They showed us respect, so we need to show them respect.”

    “You represent one of the most famous women in the world, a human being. I want you to be inspired by her,” Rose Ann told the students. “You are powerful, you are special, and you have purpose.”

    Several news outlets attended the event. Video can be found at KXLY and KHQ.

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  • Resources for extended school breaks

    Posted by Theresa Tanner on 11/20/2023 6:00:00 AM

    Smiling Salk Middle School student standing with a shopping cart of bags of food.

    As our schools prepare for the first two extended breaks of the school year – Thanksgiving Break, Nov. 22-24, and Winter Break, Dec. 25-Jan.5) – we wanted to share some community resources that families may find useful.

    Since 2014, Second Harvest and At The Core have partnered to send food home from school with students who are experiencing food insecurity through Bite2Go, which distributes nearly 300,000 food kits annually kits at schools in eastern and central Washington, as well as north Idaho.

    Bite2Go is available at all Spokane Public Schools. Teachers and counselors identify students who would benefit from the program. 

    Boxes of food“There is no formal sign-up process because we have found that consent forms are a barrier to getting kids the food they need,” said Steve Durham, 2nd Harvest vice president of Philanthropy.

    Bite2Go distribution dates at SPS elementary schools are Wednesdays and every other Tuesday at SPS middle and high schools (except during school breaks). Find a calendar at Bite2Go Partner Resources, or talk to your school’s counselor for more information.

    When school isn’t in session, families can enter their zip code at Food Near Me to find nearby food pantries and meal sites.

    There are many other areas of need for families, especially during the winter holiday season. Here are a few ways to both give and get support:

    Please note that most of these resources are coordinated by organizations outside of SPS. Please direct any questions to the organizers through the included links.

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  • Why I’m a substitute educator for Spokane Public Schools

    Posted by Ryan Lancaster on 11/16/2023 8:00:00 PM

    A collage showing twelve substitute teachers, some with members of their family.

    In honor of Substitute Educator’s Day (Nov. 17), we reached out to several substitutes in our district to ask why they choose to work for SPS, what they like best about the job, and why others should consider serving students in this way.

    We appreciate each of them, along with the hundreds of others who work across our district.

    Cindy Greenslitt

    A few months after retiring from the State of Washington in 2015, I accepted my first subbing assignment at Ferris High School. The fun part of that job was that I got to fill in for my daughter, Emily Schutz, while she was on maternity leave with her newborn twin boys (my grandkids). It was an added benefit to have Emily on speed dial as I learned to navigate PowerSchool, update the Reader Board, book buses for sports activities and all that goes with the duties of being an Athletics Secretary. I am proud to say I work for Spokane Public Schools as I see the district as a valuable community partner in our city.

    Over the last 8 years I have met and made friends with some really great co-workers. They have included me in outside activities such as the Bowling for Kids, after-hours secretary meetings, and the Ferris Golf Tournaments. I feel like I am part of a big family. As a retired person, it's been really nice to have choices on which days and locations that I am available to work.

    Working for the school district provides opportunities to get your foot in the door to a rewarding long-term career. There are a variety of career fields for folks with all levels of education. Also, being a substitute offers you a lot of freedom and flexibility with your personal life. 

    Jaimie Evens

    I have worked for SPS since November 2018. Being a substitute offers me an opportunity to work with a variety of different students. I have met many wonderful people (both students and staff) in my years with SPS.

    Others should consider being a substitute educator because it is a great opportunity to help children in their community.

    Lindsey Baker

    I chose to work for SPS because the opportunity to be in a school setting and working with kids is a true passion of mine. I enjoy the staff as well. I have been with the school district for about 5 months now. 

    What I like best about working as a substitute is the enthusiasm and friendly staff as well as the students. The flexible schedule is also very nice and accommodating. I believe other should consider being a substitute educator for several reasons, like flexible schedule, the pay rate is great, and the chance to work with students that are great. It is also rewarding serving the SPS district. 

    I enjoy substitute teaching at more challenging schools because they may need a little more help and I find the work to be interesting.

    Joe Hunt

    I choose to work for Spokane Public Schools because the district is second to none and I strive to be where excellence is expected.

    My favorite thing about being a sub is the people I get to interact with each and every day. There are fantastic teachers, office and support personnel. People are warm, caring, and understanding.

    I would encourage people to consider substitute teaching because of the students you get to interact with, the flexible scheduling, and the amazing support that you receive from those around you. 

    Stephanie Marsh

    I have been subbing for SPS for going on 5 years now, and I originally decided to work in this district because of the large size and where the schools were located. I live in the Emerson neighborhood, which is centrally located, so it made sense to consider working for SPS. Also, I love teaching. I have now gone back to school and finished my master's degree in special education. I plan to teach full-time soon in the district or start off long term subbing.

    I have really enjoyed working at SPS. I have made many connections and built strong relationships with both staff and students at the many schools I work at that I will always cherish. I love that even in the short time I get to work with these students I still feel like I can make an impact in their lives.

    Others should consider being a substitute educator for one reason: Flexibility! It's great to be able to work when you want. This job works for me as a mother. It allows me to volunteer at my child's school, go on field trips, and be home with them if they are sick. I have subbed in my own children's schools, or on some occasions even their classes, which has given me the unique advantage of being able to get to know my child's peers and teachers. Also, it doesn't hurt that the pay is great; this is one of the highest paying school districts in the area.  

    Taylor Powell

    I graduated with my Master's in Education last year and chose to work for SPS because this was the district I did my student teaching in and knew I would be able to get a wide variety of school and classroom experiences due to the different areas that the district covers. 

    So far, my favorite thing about being a substitute with SPS is the fact that I am able to substitute in so many different schools and in various grade levels. This really enables me to develop my overall teaching skills as well as allows me the opportunity to build relationships with the staff and students at the schools where I frequent. Most of all, I really enjoy being able to make connections and help show students that they are loved and cared about and have the ability to succeed when they are in the classroom with me.

    I believe others should consider being a substitute educator because it is a way to gain a variety of exposure and experience in different settings with different students. Being a substitute allows for those passionate about education to be on the frontline influencing students and creating positive change in their lives. Substituting also allows one to develop relationships with schools and staff, which can lead to more frequent visits within the school and the ability to make deeper connections with students and watch their success and growth. 

    Audrey Kaplan

    I've been coaching Math Is Cool at Roosevelt for 10 years and during that time several teachers and parents have encouraged me to consider teaching full-time. A few years ago, a friend of mine who recently started teaching as a second career suggested that I try subbing to see whether teaching might indeed be a good fit for me. I've been subbing for the past 2 years.

    I like the flexibility of being able to take jobs when it fits with my family's schedule. I also love it when I'm subbing in the middle school and my former Math Is Cool kids are in my classes.

    There's a huge need for capable, caring adults to fill in for the hard-working teachers in our district. It's a nice way to give back to the Spokane education community, and also a good way to test the waters if you've been thinking about becoming a full-time teacher.

    Jeffrey Howard

    Teaching is my second career. I worked in broadcasting for 22 years. When I came to Spokane in 1986, I was the Asst. News Director at KXLY Newsradio 920, moving on to television before going back to school and receiving my Master's in Teaching from WSU in 2006, I applied for many jobs in all of the local districts. When didn't get a full-time job, I became of substitute teacher in five or six of them. Spokane always paid the most, so naturally I had to focus on who paid better so I could pay my bills! Eventually, Spokane was the only district I was Guest Teaching in.

    As more time passed, I began to collect lots of "repeat customers" – teachers who liked the way I handled their classes when they were gone. My calendar began to fill up weeks in advance and it became less and less of a day-to-day chore of securing a job. Eventually I gave up hope of anything full-time and focused only on cultivating my "usuals" as an Awesome Guest Teacher. It's a process that has worked successfully for me for many years.

    What I like most about being an Awesome Guest Teacher in SPS is returning to the same schools regularly and seeing students I've had in different classes. I can walk across the cafeteria and kids shout "Mr. Howard!" It's nice to feel wanted!

    It's an important job! I like knowing that I'm helping the teacher feel confident that their class is in good hands with someone whose expectations are the same as the teacher. After I introduce myself, I tell the students my expectations -- which are the same as their teacher: Do what you're supposed to do, when you're supposed to do it, and how you'd do it if their teacher were here. It's all about respect -- for their teacher and for me! It's usually a pretty good day!

    Rebecca Jorges

    I choose to work for SPS because of how close it is to home. I like the variety of classrooms that I can go to. One day I will be in 5th grade, the next in preschool.  It is exciting to have something new all the time.

    Being a substitute is a good way of experiencing many different teaching styles.  As a sub, you will learn what will work for you to be the best teacher you can be.

    Sheena Artz

    Why did I choose to join SPS in February 2022, you may wonder? Let me share the secret with you — it's my magnetic charm and witty personality that the educational system just couldn't say no to. After 20 years as a hairstylist, I decided to trade in my scissors for schoolbooks.

    As a full-time student, I've mastered the art of juggling classes. It's like being a school superhero with a superpower of flexibility, swooping in to gain diverse experiences, sprinkle positivity, empower, encourage, and impact the next generation. Call me the 'Student Substitute Extraordinaire!'

    Thinking of becoming a substitute educator in the school district? Well, buckle up because it's like an exciting rollercoaster of fun and chaos! Earning your stripes with flexible scheduling, you can chat with energetic students and meet a motley crew of colleagues who will keep you laughing all day long.

    Vickie Allert

    I retired from the district after almost 23 years of service in August 2022 and began subbing with the district in February of 2023. I love subbing for the district because it allows me to choose when I work and allows my husband and me to travel more often. I also enjoy working at different locations and working with kids.

    I think that others could enjoy subbing for the district if they want a flexible schedule and love working with kids.

    Lyle Stagg

    This is my second year as a substitute teacher. I choose to work for SPS because they are a large enough district to be able to connect students with valuable services such as veteran teachers, counselors, mental health therapists, school phycologists, OTs, SLPs, PTs, transportation and nutrition services, etc. It takes a village to meet the diverse needs of our students.

    The best part of my job is making a unique connection with students. I'm not someone they see every day so it's a completely clean slate. I also really love being welcomed into so many different classrooms. Having the opportunity to see such a wide variety of teaching styles and techniques allows me to pick up highly effective and engaging strategies when I see them to save for my future classroom. 

    The role of substitute teacher is really valuable because you have a new environment each day that provides a wide variety of academic settings and learning opportunities. There are so many different programs in our district from NEWTech Prep to the APPLE Program. 

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  • Inclusive Classrooms Lead to Student Success in Spokane Public Schools

    Posted by Kevin Dudley on 11/8/2023

    School classroom

    In the past, students with developmental or learning disabilities were separated in their own classroom for every hour of the school day. That was then, and in Spokane Public Schools, inclusive classrooms are now standard practice to better help students.

    Inclusive classrooms don’t all look alike at each school, but the idea is the same: Bringing students in special education programs into general education classrooms to learn grade level material and age level social-emotional learning with their peers.

    “Inclusion is a right. The students have a right to be in their general education classes with their peers. It creates an equitable education environment for everyone,” said Mary Douthitt, a resource teacher at Chase Middle School.

    At Chase, inclusive classrooms help students achieve faster and more meaningful academic growth, which Douthitt has witnessed firsthand. She’s seen students make 1.3 years of growth in one school year after being given grade level curriculum in a general education classroom, compared to just a half a year of growth before inclusive classrooms were introduced.

    “The research is pretty clear: If you are accessing your grade level material, you are going to make more progress,” Douthitt said.

    It’s not as simple as placing a student receiving special education services in a general education classroom. Special education teachers can join the student in the classroom taught by a general education teacher. Schools provide other support as needed so students are best served. And not every student receiving special education services is in a general education classroom all day.

    “We meet their needs,” Douthitt said. “Some students may be in co-taught classes all day, and some are in co-taught classes for some part of the day.”

    At Balboa Elementary School, inclusive classrooms are the result of a team-based approach.

    The process begins in the spring as schools prepare for the next school year. Schools analyze data for each student receiving special education services to figure out each student’s strengths. Administrators and teachers meet with families to determine the best way to serve the student.

    “When we look at inclusion, it’s a real partnership,” said Balboa Principal Brenda Lollis.

    Like middle school, elementary schools are seeing student progress. While subject material is different in elementary school, it’s the social-emotional learning that sees great progress, which bodes well as students progress through elementary school and enter middle school.

    “The social piece is always a huge growth area,” said Holly Cartmell, a design instruction teacher at Balboa. “A lot of times at the start of the year, kids are unsure, they talk quietly, and teachers can’t hear them. By the end of the year, they’re typically very confident.”

    Staff are intentional about the subject material, too, and ensure students are making gains in math, reading, and other subjects. And that students are participating just like their peers.Students

    Students make this progress due to several factors—the greatest being welcomed in a general education classroom with their peers. Schools have created buddy systems, where classmates or even kids in older grades help the students receiving special education services, whether that’s accompanying them to school assemblies, eating lunch with them, or working with them in the classroom.

    This has a ripple effect on the culture of the school. General education students are learning that there are students who need extra help, who are different from them. Students learn to embrace the abilities, perspectives, and experiences of those around them—so that each individual feels valued, respected, and connected.

    “All of us have our struggles and all of us have our strengths, and we really instill that in our students,” Lollis said. “You might visually see someone with disability, but you might also not know when you see someone, so just be accepting of all.”

    Inclusive classrooms have provided access for students who previously weren’t afforded as much. That’s a benefit to them, their classmates, their schools and the community.

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