More SPS Stories

  • Shaw music students, teachers invigorated by new classrooms

    Posted by Communications staff on 9/14/2021

    Wide view of a Shaw Middle School band class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wide view of Shaw Middle School choir classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted by Communications staff on 8/4/2021

    For an audio version of this story, visit

     Boy looks at phonograph.

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

    “It’s too hot!” students shout. 

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

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

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

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

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

    “The lightbulb.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A violin crackles to life.

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  • LC students pick produce to help local farmers, environment

    Posted by Communications staff on 7/1/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here’s how the Green Bluff Harvest Program works:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Student carrying basket of fruit in orchard

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

    Posted by Communications staff on 6/30/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • 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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