BJ Adams, Network Technician
“I used to work in the aquatics department at Petco. I really wanted to be a marine biologist. My job as the ‘aquatics guy’ was to not only maintain the aquariums, but to educate and inspire people about caring for a vast array of species of fish and invertebrates both fresh and saltwater. As I grew, I came to realize that this was my passion, and as a result, my aquariums grew from small, simple tabletop aquariums to very elaborate aquariums that required other skills such as plumbing, woodworking, electrical work and chemistry. I’ve been in the hobby now for a little over 20 years and have setup all kinds of aquariums. It’s kind of a love-hate relationship sometimes, but I find it to be therapeutic and a little relaxing. There’s nothing like coming home from work, sitting on the couch and just zoning out staring into an aquarium full of colorful fish. It’s like having your own oceanfront property in your living room.
My parents are both retired educators. My mother was a teacher and my dad, Dave Adams, was a principal. He worked all over and then ended up in Bellingham at Birchwood and Cordata before he retired.
When I graduated from college, my dad asked me if I’d like to get some real world work experience subbing here. And I said, yes, that would be awesome; I’d try that out and see how that goes. Once I got here, after my first week, I realized this was what I wanted to do. I found that drive that people are looking for in their dream jobs. I thought how cool would it be to have a job like this? Then I got hired full-time in 2014. I enjoy being part of a community. I came here, not just to have a job, but because it was something bigger than myself. I like being a part of an institution that helps the future and helps people become better individuals. This job is geared toward helping people. It keeps me motivated and drives me to be here every day. I fix things that are broken. I make things work. I help both kids and teachers navigate the complexities of computer technology and how to use it to enhance learning.
I feel like this job is so community-based and I am here to support the community, yet, I don’t live in the community, so, I feel like that is something that is missing. I am married and have a three-year-old daughter. We don’t live in Bellingham now but hope to move here before she starts school. I want the best for her.
When I was little I had Encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain. I don’t remember how old I was, but it put me in a coma in the hospital for a long time. When I woke up, I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t eat. I had to learn everything all over again. They were worried I would never recover. I was in therapy for a long time. I have a learning disability because of it. That’s something I still struggle with to this day, but I have learned to overcome it. It’s weird how life works, you know, but when you find something that you’re really passionate about and it really means something to you. You go get. Don’t let anything deter you from getting what you want in life.”
Keith Allex, Journeyman Painter with Buildings and Grounds
“I grew up in Grand Coulee. I came to WWU for my junior year and that’s how I got into painting. I was on the wrestling team and someone came to practice and asked if anyone wanted a hard, physical job to stay in shape for the summer. I said yes and worked out at the refinery doing industrial painting. I took a semester off to earn some money and painted full-time. Then I got my degree in psychology/child development.
After I graduated, I had a job offer making $5 an hour working in social services; I was making $10 hour at the refinery. I thought I’d wait and paint for a year and then go back and get my master’s degree, but I never did go back.
I worked all over in industrial painting. I worked on the Space Needle doing the rigging for the spiders, the cable that lifts the structure up. The top is 600 feet so underneath it’s like 450 feet. The wind is really intense and the Needle moves so much. It’s a little scary at first, but I walked high steel so I got used to it.
I worked for myself for about 10 years. Truthfully, climbing up 40-foot ladders and working long hours was getting hard. When the painting job for the district opened in 2000, I applied.
Eventually I was elected into union leadership. Because of that, I was invited to the annual retirement dinners. The first one I went to, many years ago, I thought this is really going to be boring. Right away though, my reaction was that this is the best thing of the whole year! It was so inspiring, I really enjoyed seeing and hearing the dedication of teachers, librarians, food service staff, bus drivers, the administration, all the people that live and breathe education. That is one of the reasons I am proud to work for the district.
People don’t realize how much Buildings and Grounds does for the schools. And they shouldn’t notice it, really. If something goes wrong you will notice, and we get on it and take care of it and things run smooth and everything looks good. I’m proud of our entire department.
I use all low VOC paint now. There are still people who are sensitive, so I am careful where and when I paint. I take a lot of pride in doing a good job quickly and efficiently. But my biggest pride is in taking care of the schools and making the principals and teachers happy with their surroundings.
Your environment can have a big effect on your ability to learn and concentrate. Most people here have embraced The Bellingham Promise and that every child should be loved and have the opportunity to reach their educational potential. I really love working here.”
Brian Pahl, Dean of Students and Educational Technology Coach at Sunnyland Elementary School and Lynnelle Larson, Educational Technology Coach at Shuksan Middle School
Lynnelle: “I didn’t plan on going into teaching. I majored in science and I wanted to be a scientist or a doctor. In fact, after I graduated from UW I worked in a research lab. I was a cellular and molecular biology major so we were studying yeast and how different molecular pathways in yeast relate to drug use for things like Alzheimer’s disease, but one of my favorite parts of my job was when the high school interns would come in. I thought, maybe teaching is what I want to do. I applied to Western’s master’s of education program.
Brian: I grew up in southern California and just gradually moved north. I liked the green, the rivers, the lakes and the rain. Southern California doesn’t have much of those things. I came up here in 2000 and got a job at Western. I worked in Prevention and Wellness Services. Teaching was always what I wanted to do, but this job gave me the opportunity to do important work in our community. It allowed we to grow as a person and as an educator. When the grant funding my position expired in 2006, I went back to school to get my teaching credential.
Lynnelle: At Western, I was a graduate assistant for the Woodring program. I worked closely with Bob Keiper and he happened to be roommates with Brian. I met Brian through Bob and he kind of pushed us together. Bob called me and he’s like, “Brian likes you!” I mean, we are in our 20s and he’s totally playing matchmaker. Bob officiated our wedding when we got married in 2005. We have two kids, Luna is a sixth grader at Whatcom and Grace is a third grader at Sunnyland.
Brian: It’s been interesting having kids in the system but also having influence over some of their experiences when it comes to technology. I appreciate having played both roles.
Lynnelle: We talk about balancing technology a lot at home and we by no means have it completely dialed in.
Brian: I would say that a really important thing for us is that it’s not about screen time. It’s about how kids are using and interacting with technology. Quality is more important than quantity.
Lynnelle: It’s an ongoing conversation. Our own kids are trying to navigate what that looks like and because we don’t have those hard and fast screen time rules, it’s almost a conversation whenever they want to do something. We definitely use technology for entertainment too. We use sites like Common Sense Media when we aren’t sure about apps, books or movies. Our kids are like, gosh can’t we just watch tv? Our poor kids – two educator parents!
Brian: One of the many reasons why I value technology in schools is the access it gives students. Kids that struggled with print text for whatever reason, can now listen to texts and that barrier is removed. The critical thinking skills and comprehension skills are all there. Before that, they were prevented from participating or seeing themselves as learners. Kids who can’t write, or type – that barrier has been removed with speech-to-text technology. Those kids see themselves as writers now, where before they didn’t. When we talk about the outcomes we want for all of our kids, these resources help our kids achieve those outcomes.
Lynnelle: We see students coming in that have gaps in their education for various reasons. To be able to share technology tools with students that make them able to access the material whether they’ve been in the country for two weeks or they’ve never read a book on their own before but they are able to read the same book as their class because of the technology tools available to them is so exciting. I dream of the day when that’s no big deal, that’s just the way it is. I think it’s really rewarding to think how we are supporting teachers and students eliminate barriers.”