Michelle Wilhelm was announced the 2018 Washington Family and Consumer Sciences GRADS Teacher of the Year at the WA-FACSE Awards Luncheon in Spokane this August.
Wilhelm is a GRADS teacher at both Squalicum and Sehome high schools. GRADS (Graduation, Reality And Dual-role Skills) is a program for pregnant and parenting students that provides the academic and childcare support necessary to stay in high school and graduate.
The awards committee said, “We were inspired by her continued commitment to provide support and opportunities for students. Wilhelm is an outstanding example of a motivated, hardworking and caring educator. What an asset you have in Bellingham Public Schools.”
Wilhelm was nominated by Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Kristi Dominguez, and several other letters of support were provided by students and staff.
Dominguez described Wilhelm as willing to do whatever it takes to help our students achieve their unlimited potential and instrumental in developing the district mission and culture of the GRADS program.
“The unselfish means to which Michelle is willing to go for some of our most at risk students is well beyond her job description,” Dominguez said. “She knows that keeping these moms in school means a better life for both the parent and their child.”
Over the years, Wilhelm has worked with the Bellingham Public Library to get library cards for students and invited the library to come once a month for a mom-and-me class. She coordinates yearly student trips to Whatcom Community College, Western Washington University and Bellingham Technical College. After a GRADS mother has given birth, Wilhelm will meet her at the hospital, and then works with the student to get tutoring set up so she can keep up with her schoolwork.
“I am humbled by the tenacity and perseverance of our teen parents,” Wilhelm said. “Many of our young families come back to school and attend mainstream classes, full-time, when their infant is only 4 weeks old. They do this because they are motivated to provide their children with a positive life. My students show up consistently, bringing the best they have to offer, they inspire me to do the same. We all, the GRADS team and the students, believe education is the first step to gifting the children with opportunities and a life free of struggle.”
Wilhelm said when she thinks about the future of her students she wants them to know they are worthy of all the beautiful things the world has to offer and that they are capable of achieving their dreams. She said no one is exempt from obstacles, but it’s what we do with our adversity and obstacles that makes all the difference.
“I feel fortunate that I get to support my GRADS students in paving a beautiful pathway during a time when some could feel defeated. I can honestly say that I learn as much from my teen parents as I could ever teach them. They are a gift to my life and I am so fortunate to call this my work,” Wilhelm said.
A pair of GRADS students submitted a letter as part of the nomination. They wrote: “We are so incredibly thankful for all the work you do in GRADS. The amount that you love all of us and support us is more than we could ever ask for. All of the girls in GRADS would not be where they are today, if it weren’t for you. We feel that your dedication, love and effort go unrecognized a lot of the time. We just wanted to make sure you know how much we appreciate you and how much you mean to us. Seeing your smiling face every day gives us all hope, and we feel loved. You are amazing. Thank you for being you.”