Connor Hegarty, Special Education Teacher at Bellingham High School
“I signed up for two years to be a cavalry scout in the Army. It’s a job that goes along with infantry or tank units. You sit on top of hills and look out and radio back to tell what’s going on. I picked it because I got to be outside, and there was a lot of hiking.
While I was in the Army, I was able to take community college classes and when I finished I got my AA. That set me up well to transfer to UC Berkeley in California, which was near where I was stationed. I studied history because by the time I left the Army I wanted to be a social studies teacher. I decided to jump right into grad school to get my teaching certificate and managed to get myself into Columbia University. I think a lot of people when they get into good schools, they kind of wonder how that happened; to me it’s always been I think that I had an interesting kind of diversity being a veteran. That is part of my story also.
I moved back to Bellingham but I didn’t get a social studies job, so I worked construction. Then I broke my back snowboarding and couldn’t do construction, so I began to substitute teach in a Life Skills classroom. And I went, ‘Holy smokes–this is really cool, and If I like this, then I should try to do this.’ So it really was all of those accidental things.
Special education is a pretty young field. We didn’t have formal federal legislation about it until the early 70s. Even in the 20 years since I graduated from high school the expectations for inclusion have really shifted and increased, so I think that’s a fun thing to be a part of. Even in the 10 years that I’ve been doing this work it’s changed. The Life Skills program serves about 1% of the student population. I started at Sehome, and it became an interest of mine that we should branch out and have Life Skills services in all of the high schools. As I’ve come to the new schools I have been blown away with how eager people are to be involved as soon as the door is open.
It is easier to relate to people from close-up; once you’re in the room talking to someone and hearing their experiences–you see there’s just beauty in each person and in their situation and in what they have to offer the world.
Being back at BHS as an alumnus and a teacher feels great. It’s way more sentimental than I expected. Bellingham has been remodeled and looks totally different than when I went here but that almost makes it more interesting. I’ll wander the hallways and I’ll realize I had math class in that same corner of the building 20 years ago. My classroom now is right across from what was a student lounge where I ate lunch with my friends every day, so yeah, it’s like having friends around.
I think the biggest thing I would like folks to remember about veterans is what a diverse bunch of people we are. It’s hard especially in public spaces for us to have any critical conversations about veterans, and the official dialogue is so formal that it gets depersonalized a little bit. We’re everywhere and we’re doing all kinds of things. We’re maintenance guys and we’re also crunchy granola special education teachers.”
Cindy Batdorf, Administrative Assistant at Parkview Elementary School
“I started working for the district in 1986. I had a neighbor who suggested I was really good at working with kids, so when my kids started kindergarten, I began my journey with the school district as a noon duty, recess para. I was at Lowell Elementary and I enjoyed playing with the kids and learning all kinds of things about their little lives. I realized that I like kids, not just my own, but all kids.
We have a lot of past students and adults who come back and visit Parkview and that feels good. People always comment that it looks just the same.They remember when we did the trip-trap over the bridge for Three Billy Goats Gruff. They still do that. They remember releasing baby salmon and going to the planetarium and we still do that. Recess is still the same. There are still too many jump ropes. They run and climb and play the same way they did 30 years ago. They really do.
When the high school kids come back, it’s always such a dear thing. They smile, and you just immediately smile back. That connection still exists. I know we reached them and they’ve come back and they just want to feel it again one more time.
I know from this expanse of time that elementary schools are important because those early experiences stay with you as you move all the way through life. If you got support, you know you can get support again. If you can trust the people that are there to care about you, then you can go a long way.
It’s time for the worn-out parts of Parkview to be rebuilt, but the building’s heart beats strong. I’m very much looking forward to a brand new building and helping it launch with the same connections it has had for 30 years. It’s a very loving community and it’s my hope that it will have the same feel when you walk in the new building; that it will be a place people want to come back and check out and see if the feeling is still here.
I think that at Parkview it’s always about the kids. It’s always about the service. What can I give to repay what I get back from the kids? Every day is different and there is always something that I’m learning from the kids, parents and staff. It’s an easy place to be and I love it. I have never run across a day where I don’t want to come back. Brand new day, learn something new, go home and start it over again.”
Cynthia Dumas, Food Services Lead at Shuksan Middle School
“I love the schools. When I decided I was going to go back and do a retired career as a ‘cafeteria mom,’ my son said, ‘Oh mom, is that what you want to do after all the careers you’ve had?’ I said, that was the most fun I had — when I was in elementary school, helping the cafeteria ladies. Because they cooked everything from scratch when I was in school. We had amazing lunches and breakfasts. That was in school in Louisiana. I moved here in 2005.
Everything was from scratch. Biscuits in the morning; the lunch ladies cooked fresh beans on Mondays and Fridays, and we had stews and meatloaf, homemade mashed potatoes; the only thing they didn’t do was cut French fries and we didn’t have French fries very often.
I grew up in a community where a lot of people grew their own vegetables and fruits. We didn’t rely on stores, we grew everything and everybody shared. The school was the same way. We wanted fresh produce, locally grown for the kids and that’s what they did. I was very excited about the Central Kitchen, because I grew up with a lot of fresh foods.
We lived in Vacherie, it’s between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I miss the food there, but right now I can’t taste or smell because I had the flu in April. So, it was really hard when I visited home because I couldn’t enjoy the food.
For the new menu, I’ve only been able to taste what they did before April. It’s sad because I love to eat. I can taste lemon, sour; I can taste a little sweet and a little salty. But I want to taste it, or smell it at least, so I imagine what it tastes like.
I really enjoy working with the school district; when my kids were in school and I used to volunteer all the time, everywhere, I really thought it was a good district to be involved with and I just really truly enjoy it. When I stop enjoying something I usually move on, I go to something else. I’m still having fun; I’m still having an adventure. I always tell the kids, my other co-workers, ok, let’s get on the merry-go-round! And my kitchen is our castle, so, we come to the castle in the morning.”