Leah Dutton, Life Skills Paraeducator at Wade King Elementary School
“I moved to Bellingham when I was in the sixth grade. I met my husband, Aaron, in the ninth grade at Sehome. We were both in band and were traveling with the basketball team to state. I had two other friends, but we couldn’t sit together because it was two per seat so I sat next to Aaron on the bus. That was February and by spring break we were dating. After high school, he went to UW and I went to Whatcom Community College for paralegal studies. After I graduated, I moved to Seattle, got a job as a paralegal and then we got married.
We graduated from Sehome; now our kids go there. We had Mr. Snyder for band and now my son, Alex, has Mr. Snyder as a teacher too. It’s fun to see. They marched for homecoming. I said, ‘oh are you doing the anchor?” And Alex said, ‘yes, we are doing the anchor.” I said, ‘yes, I remember the anchor!’
I grew up on Yew Street hill and we ended up buying a house not far from my parents’ house. I feel like because I have been a part of Wade King since it opened it’s been like my home. I know all the people here. A lot of the teachers my kids had. I had been on the PTA before I started working here. Now I’m in my fifth year working as a Life Skills paraeducator.
This year everything is going really well. We have six paraeducators. That really helps because we have more support. It’s amazing how working collaboratively with a team of hard working people makes a difference in the level of support we can provide to students. We can really see the progress in the kids development. We see the growth that’s happened.
Each of our kids has their thing that they are working on. When I go into a classroom, I try to be an advocate for our students. If the class is working on writing a poem, maybe the student I’m supporting can’t write out a poem, but they can type it. I try to make a judgement and assess what is happening in the classroom to help the student so they have a higher chance of success. I try to support our students and do what I can to make them successful.
People are always welcome to join our class. We always like people to see what the kids are learning and a lot of the times we are doing fun stuff too.”
Doug Vit, Head Custodian at Fairhaven Middle School
“I’m Canadian, so I have to play hockey. It’s a rule. I play hockey three times a week, all winter. I play defense and forward to mix it up and I play on two teams. I also umpire girls fast-pitch softball and I do that all over the state. I started umpiring because I lost a bet. I told a buddy of mine, and I was just being sarcastic me, I said, ‘I can do a better job than you.’ And he said, ‘oh yeah, show me.’ So I tried it and I liked it! I like going different places. You get to meet lots of people and hear their stories. I do a lot of select ball and high level ball all around the state. I’ve also done some umpiring for Special Olympics.
I was born in Toronto and grew up across the border. Then we moved west in the mid-70s. I went to the British Columbia Institute of Technology and took a course that’s all about custodial. I got a job at the Canadian border cleaning offices. Then I met somebody, we moved to California and we had kids. I worked as a custodian at a high school with 3,400 kids. The school was built for 1,800 kids. We had people crammed into rooms. You could see they didn’t have any infrastructure. They were just trying to get by. We moved to Bellingham in 2004 to be closer to my mom, but also I wanted my kids to have a better education.
When I was the head custodian at Options, Dr. Baker came onto the scene. He comes in and says, ‘I’ve got a plan, I’ve got an idea.’ I was like ‘alright, let’s hear this,’ and it was good! He said, ‘it’s like we are one schoolhouse. We’re in this together. We are a team.’
I believe we are all support staff, and Christopher Dean, who was the custodial supervisor when I was hired, believed that too. We are all here to support the teachers. We give them everything we can so they can do their job to engage and enhance children’s lives. Every day is different and that’s the beauty in it. We all have a basic idea of what we are going to do every day, but some days I repair shoes and charm bracelets. I like that bit of it. That’s fun for me and I like to help solve people’s problems.
I can’t emphasize enough that it was so great, to have structure here and to see that embodied by all the hardworking people, like Executive Director Kristi Dominguez. She really listens to ideas and that’s so important to feel your voice is heard. There is a vision here, there is a plan. They say we are going to do this and then they do it. It makes you want to be part of it. Coming from the school in California, that was hard work and it was just a job. Here, it’s like you get to bake the cake and eat it too – it’s not just a job anymore, it’s a passion.”
Bree Ammerman, Fleet Specialist for the Traffic Safety Program
“I’ve been riding horses as long back as I can remember. My father bought a horse for my mother when they were first married and she passed on her love of horses to me. My father is allergic to horses, and I got that part from him. I used to do competitive barrel racing but now I just ride for fun. My kids ride too.
I had been a stay-at-home mom for nine years and I was looking for jobs when I heard about this opportunity. I thought, ‘I can do that!’ I completed a six week course at Bellingham High School provided by Central Washington University and now I’m a certified behind-the-wheel instructor.
There are so many components in driving that you don’t really think about. Then you get a brand new driver that doesn’t even know how to unwind the wheel or that when the wheel turns left, the tires turn left. They don’t get that. So it’s really trying to break it down to teach them the first components of driving.
I work with some kids that have high anxiety. They just need a lot of reassurance and a calm presence in the car. We just take it slow and then we add to it. Any time on their first drive if they’ve never been on the road, I say, ‘Want to go on the road?’ and their eyes bug out. I tell them, ‘It will be fine, let’s go!’ My rule is you can’t do anything wrong in the car. I can steer and I can brake. If it gets to be too much, we can pull over safely, I’ll drive us back to the school and then we try again.
One of the girls who I’d instructed came up to me after the class and said, ‘I want to thank you,’ and I said, ‘Well of course, it’s no big deal. It’s my job.’ And she said, ‘No, I didn’t think I could ever drive and not only did you make me realize that I could drive, but you made realize that my anxiety isn’t going to rule me and I’ll be able to do so much more in life.’ I was crying and I gave her a big hug. That’s what it’s about to me. Teaching these kids. They may have anxiety but they can overcome it and they can do it. I know they can. A lot of kids just need someone to believe in them.”