More SPS Stories

  • 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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  • Lidgerwood Elementary uses creativity to continue celebrating students

    Posted by Communications staff on 3/30/2021

    Kindergarten Lidgerwood Leader smiles for camera holding her certificate

    Despite the year of twists and turns, many of our schools are trying to keep important pre-pandemic traditions alive.

    At Lidgerwood Elementary, COVID-19 won’t keep them from celebrating their exceptional students every month through the ‘Lidgerwood Leaders’ program.

    “It is a goal of most students to become a Lidgerwood Leader,” said Principal Steve Barnes. “I’ve been doing a version of the Lidgerwood Leader for as long as I’ve been a principal – over 20 years – and everywhere I’ve been it’s been a really special program.”

    Selected by their teacher, a Lidgerwood Leader is someone who:

    • Displays “PAWS” traits (Positive attitude, Act responsibly, Works to succeed, Show respect).
    • Displays responsible behavior.
    • Completes schoolwork and homework to the best of their ability and on time.
    • Attends school daily and arrives on time.

    On the last Tuesday of every month, Mr. Barnes will typically hold a special recognition luncheon in the library for all the Leaders and invite their family to take part in the festivities.

    Principal Barnes recognizes a 1st grade Lidgerwood Leader winner in front of his classmates

    “The families love to come and celebrate their student, and the students love having family members at school to have lunch with them,” said Steve.

    This year, however, the way they’ve had to recognize students has evolved from month to month.

    “We held zoom meetings with parents and students when they were at home at the beginning of the year,” said officer manager Susan Stanifer-Miller. “Then when they started coming back to class in person, we adjusted so Mr. Barnes would recognize some students in class and some online.”

    Now that grades K-4 are in class full time and grades 5 & 6 are on a hybrid model, Mr. Barnes spends the last Tuesday of every month going classroom to classroom to recognize the Lidgerwood Leaders and celebrate their success with their classmates.

    Lidgerwood Leader winner looks through box of treasures for a prize

    Student gets a certificate and a hand-written note from their teacher, explaining why they were chosen as the Leader for that month. They also get a handful of coupons to different local establishments, and perhaps the most exciting part of all, the students get to pick a prize from Mr. Barnes’s treasure trove of goodies. Things like coloring books, stuffies and slime.

    They also get their picture taken by Mr. Barnes to be displayed on the school’s wall of Leaders.

    Student holding his Lidgerwood Leader certificate and prize getting his picture taken by the principal  Wall of Lidgerwood Leader winners

    While it’s different from the original Leaders luncheon, Mr. Barnes says it’s brought more attention to the program than ever before.

    “I think it’s because more students are actually seeing their classmates get recognized as a Lidgerwood Leader, all the fanfare that was usually reserved for the luncheon, and it motivates them to be a Lidgerwood Leader someday,” said Steve.

    “We’ve had students get this award who have NEVER had it previously,” said Susan.

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  • Linwood’s Leaping Leprechauns

    Posted by Communications staff on 3/26/2021

    Linwood students and Mrs. Z gather with their leprechauns.
    Move over, Elf on the Shelf! Linwood Elementary has found a new diminutive magical creature to help keep an eye on students.

    Seven leaping leprechauns have been enjoying an extended stay at Linwood this month after getting word from the school’s health and fitness teacher – and fellow Irish lass - Mrs. Zwiesler about how great the students are.

    “I had been in communication with the leprechauns and passed on the message that the students at Linwood are fantastic,” said Mrs. Z, as she is affectionately known.

    Following a long day of travel from the Emerald Isle, the seven leprechauns landed at Spokane International Airport on March 1. Since then, they’ve hid throughout Linwood and watching for students who show their best “PAWS” – Positive attitude, Act responsible, Work hard, and Show respect.

    After seeing how respectful and well-behaved Linwood students are, the leprechauns decided they wanted to stay in Spokane forever! Each leprechaun picked a student from a different grade, K-6, to go home with. The only criteria was the student had exemplify the spirit of “PAWS”.

    kindergarten leprechaun winner  1st grade leprechaun winner  2nd grade leprechaun winner  3rd grade leprechaun winner  4th grade leprechaun winner

    On Friday, March 26, the chosen students were notified they were taking home a Linwood leprechaun. They even got a certificate congratulating them on “showing all four we PAWS during March”.

     Each student winner got a tiny leprechaun and leaping leprechaun certificate

    Mrs. Z and Linwood have hosted leprechauns during March for the last few years, and it’s something the entire school looks forward to.

    “Our principal Gina [Naccarato-Keele] really loves it when the leprechauns come,” says Mrs. Z. “It’s such a fun time.”

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  • Finch office manager kisses pig to help students learn math

    Posted by Communications staff on 3/1/2021

    Kathy Fiorillo meets the pig she has to kiss. It’s no secret that teachers and schools will do just about anything to help their students learn. Even if it means kissing a pig.

    We should probably explain.

    Last December, the staff at Finch Elementary created the “Dreambox Challenge” where for the next ten weeks, their 422 students had to average five lessons a week on the online math program for a total of 21,100 lessons.

    The school’s reward if they hit their goal? Their office manager, Kathy Fiorillo, would have to kiss a pig. And not just any pig, but a 300-pound pig named “Lucky P,” owned by 6th grade teacher Stevie Dezellem.

    That was all the motivation the students needed to tackle the Dreambox Challenge. Finch principal Shane O’Doherty said since the start of the challenge, the school has gone “pig wild.”

    “The pig thing was actually a little joke,” Shane said. “But everyone loved the idea and Kathy was willing.”

    As the weeks went by and the number of Dreambox lessons completed rose higher and higher, there was nowhere for Kathy to escape the pig-damonium.

    “Classrooms have come to sing pig songs to her, [classes] have done pig hats,” said Shane. There’s even of row of pig stuffies perched atop the counter in the main office, right in Kathy’s eye line.

    Pig stuffies line the cabinet at the Finch main office Student drawings of pigs in the Finch main office

    Unfortunately for Kathy, the school hit their goal of 21,100 Dreambox lessons on the second-to-last week of the challenge. So, on Friday, Feb. 26, Kathy had to fulfill her end of the bargain.

    Since Lucky P is too big to leave his home in Deer Park, Kathy had to come to him. With her principal and 6th grade teacher/Lucky’s owner Stevie Dezellem looking on, Kathy planted a big smooch right on top of Lucky’s head.

    As much as Shane reveled in watching Kathy kiss that pig – a culmination of the hard work put in by his students – he knows his time will come to do something slightly embarrassing in the name of motivating kids to learn.

    “Kathy gets to choose the next challenge I have to do,” he said.

    Kathy Fiorillo kneels to kiss 300-pound pig Kathy Fiorillo bending over to kiss a pig

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  • Bemiss students get in-depth lessons on Black history

    Posted by Communications staff on 2/24/2021

    This month, students in Kristy Wilkinson’s 3rd grade class at Bemiss Elementary are taking a deep dive into the lives and events that helped shape Black history. Kristy said she felt compelled to offer her students more in-depth lessons on Black history this year following protests over racial inequity that happened this past spring and summer.

    “I felt the responsibility to be a part of the new conversation,” she said. “I want my students to be critical thinkers and see the world differently.”

    Throughout the month, Kristy’s students have tackled a different Black history topic every week, starting with discussing why we celebrate Black History Month in the first place.

     “They’re learning that Black History Month is a way for us to tell and learn about stories that aren’t always told,” Kristy said.

    From there, the kids learned about prominent Black figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. But Kristy didn’t want her lessons to just be rote memorization of key facts and dates. She wanted to make sure her students also understood the cultural and historical impact of those events.

    Example of a cause and effect chart about the arrest of Rosa Parks, written on notebook paper “This month, the students are also keeping a cause-and-effect chart in their notebooks (example pictured left),” Kristy said. “First we’ll talk about a cause, like Rosa parks refusing to give up her bus seat, and then as a class we’ll start listing off the effects that came from that action. Like her arrest, the Montgomery bus boycotts and so on.”

    Perched on a classroom wall is a three-foot-long timeline (pictured below), packed with important events in Black history, from the ratification of the 13th Amendment (which abolished slavery) to the presidency of Barack Obama. The students add events as they learn them.

    “We’ll be talking about a new piece of history,” Kristy said, “and a student will go ‘add that to the timeline, Mrs. Wilkinson!’”

    With almost 20 entries, the timeline allows students to look at history through a different lens.

    “I don’t think a lot of my students had a lot of experience with timelines before they came to my class, but they’ve really enjoyed seeing events this way,” Kristy said.

    “I loved learning all sorts of new things about Black history in the United States,” said one of Kristy’s students. “I want to keep learning about [race] because there are lots of things I didn’t know about before,” said another.

    As Black History Month ends, Kristy says she’s been so impressed with how her students have handled the lessons, adding that they’ve been kind and thoughtful with their questions and responses.

    Reflecting on the last month, Kristy said she’s reminded of one of her favorite quotes: “When you know better, you do better.”

    “It’s that little reminder to give yourself and others grace as we learn from one another,” Kristy said, “and to treat each other with respect.”

    A timeline of Black history written out on butcher paper

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  • SPS students discuss race and racism with acclaimed poet

    Posted by Communications staff on 2/15/2021 12:00:00 PM

    Headshot of poet and Yale professor Claudia Rankine Last week, SPS high school students got the unique opportunity to meet acclaimed poet Claudia Rankine (pictured right) and have an in-depth, meaningful discussion around race and racism.

    The virtual event was the product of the collaboration between members of Gonzaga University’s Black Student Union (BSU) and teachers and students from Ferris and Rogers high schools, many who are part of their schools’ BSUs. Students from across SPS participated as well.

    “It was very amazing. I was very excited to meet and hear [Mrs. Rankine],” said AJ, a senior from Ferris. “I was so happy to be a part of something bigger.”

    The organization of this event began several weeks ago, when Gonzaga purchased over 700 copies of Rankine’s book “Citizen: An American Lyric” and distributed a majority to local high schools.

    Each high school created their own lessons based on the book and their particular situation. Teachers at Ferris and Rogers even partnered with each other and worked with their Black Student Unions to discuss Rankine’s work in specific classes, addressing its relation to historical and present-day examples of racism and discrimination.

    “It was really nice hearing others talk about their thinking,” said Krista, a Rogers student. Her classmate Samuel said, “[I] felt like I learned a little bit more on how to just be a better human to others and be as open minded as I can.”

    Through Rankine’s work and the discussions that followed, several students said they learned a lot about what it takes to be antiracist and how to be an ally for people of color.

    “It was eye-opening on how my little/unaware actions can be perceived as racist or sexist depending on the circumstances,” said Samuel. “I can now see how I was in the wrong and needed to improve my self morals to be more aware and conscious of my actions.”

    Ferris senior Rosie Zhou said, “[Rankine’s] words really made me think deeply about race in America, and it made me reflect on my own Asian American identity and experience.”

    Andre, another students from Rogers, added, “This has allowed me to be better prepared to go into my future with an antiracist viewpoint and crack down on social injustice within our country.”

    Despite the difficult subject matter, students didn’t shy away from the opportunity to learn new things and hear from people with differing backgrounds and opinions discuss Claudia Rankine’s book. In fact, they relished it.

    “It was beyond nice to see people from my community come together and express their emotions and opinions over her book,” said Mercedes, a Rogers freshman.

    Her classmate Krista agreed. “I really enjoyed the book and learning new things regarding racial and social issues and introducing the idea of microaggression.”

    Andre summed up his feelings with this message of thanks to the event organizers at Gonzaga: “I am so appreciative of your willingness to include students in this event and I am hopeful that impactful change will stem from it and more opportunities similar to this one will be possible in the future!”

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  • Ferris grad on importance, impact of historical Black colleges for students of color

    Posted by Communications staff on 2/10/2021

    When presented with the opportunity to speak with SPS teachers and staff, Lisa Gardner – the communications director for the Spokane City Council and member of the executive committee for the Spokane NAACP chapter – seized it.

    “I’m originally from Spokane and I’m a product of Spokane Public Schools, from Sheridan to Libby and then onto Ferris,” she said.

    Head shot for Lisa Gardner, SPS alum and communications director for Spokane City Counsil The topic Lisa choose to speak about centered on the importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs. Her presentation was part of the district’s “Excellence for Everyone” professional development series.

    When Lisa graduated from Ferris in 1993, she didn’t know HBCUs were an option for her. The only link to historical Black colleges she had were from The Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World.

    “That was my only reference,” she said, “and even that was a fictional college.”

    After completing her studies at a nearby community college, Lisa joined AmeriCorp. It was there she met a mentor who attended Bowie State – an HBCU in Maryland – who taught Lisa about historically Black colleges and what they had to offer.

    “This opened up an entire new world for me because at first I thought I was only going to go to junior college or community college,” said Lisa.

    The next year, Lisa transferred to Bowie State. She still considers it one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

    “It definitely gave me a whole new perspective on my culture,” remembered Lisa. “It was just immersed in everything, like my faculty, my administration, my city, my dorms. I was meeting Black millionaires for the first time that are my friend's parents, not athletes or celebrities. It was that exposure that I wasn't getting here in Washington, particularly Spokane.”

    Now Lisa wants to make sure all students, but especially students of color, know they can have the same experience she did.

    “Students of color definitely need to know there is an option outside of either going to just their local community college or a university here at home,” said Lisa. “They can go to a historically Black college.”

    Lisa hopes her presentation to teachers and staff will help empower them to bring up HBCUs more to their students of color in the future.

    “It doesn’t have to be a taboo conversation,” Lisa said. “It shows the students that you recognize their culture and that, for them, learning about their culture is important.”

    HBCUs offer not only an educational awakening for students of color in Spokane or Washington state, Lisa said, but a social one as well. It was her first experience and introduction to black Greek-lettered fraternity and sororities. While at Bowie, Lisa joined her sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., which just celebrated its centennial. 

    “When you go to a historical Black college, you're no longer the minority," she said. "It’s a culture change that I think Black kids and Black people in particular should experience once in their life.”

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  • Santa’s sweatshirt giveaway at North Central

    Posted by Communications staff on 12/16/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Perseverance Leads to Published Book

    Posted by Communications staff on 12/15/2020

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

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

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

    book cover

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

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

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  • Community Partners Lend a Hand

    Posted by Communications staff on 12/15/2020

    stress ball

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

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

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

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

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