Maya Popp, music specialist at Silver Beach Elementary School

Maya Popp“After college, I decided to go to Los Angeles and do some acting. I just got on a Greyhound bus and went down there with a backpack and a sleeping bag. I did a lot of background work on TV and stand-in work on movies and TV. I have one tiny part in the movie “We Were Soldiers” with Mel Gibson. In my scene, I am the wife of a soldier and I open the door to receive the letter that my husband has died. My face slowly goes across the screen and I’m crying. And that’s it—that’s my moment!

I first moved back from California because I didn’t want to be so far away from my family. Teaching was always in the background of my mind; I became a teacher because of my high school choir teacher. I had quite a few great teachers, but she was one that I could write letters about my day and she would read them. She would let me eat lunch in her office if I was having a bad day. There were days where if I didn’t see her car in the parking lot, I wouldn’t come to school. She was my protector. I felt like the day was going to be OK, no matter what, if she was there. We had a good connection because I was musically inclined; it was a place where I fit in, and where I excelled.

I grew up in Enumclaw, Wash., which is a very small town that does not have very many people of color. There was my oldest brother and me. One other family in our town had some kids of color and they were also adopted. There was a lot of racism and some hard times during those years, and music was the one area where other students looked up to me and I succeeded. People could see, “She’s worthy” –that’s how I felt. So even if I had rough days, music was a place where I was OK.

Music is about unity, and group, and being a team. I love being a music teacher. I get to be a teacher of everyone in the school and remember what they were like when they were kindergartners versus how much they’ve grown by fifth grade. So that’s something that I absolutely love. I love teaching kids to work together and communicate with each other through an instrument or through singing –you’re communicating all together.”

Viry Ferreria, registrar at Kulshan Middle School

Viry Ferriera“I was born and raised in Morelia, Mexico. It’s a city in one of the central states on the Pacific side. I moved up here in 2009. I remember I spoke little to no English, just the basics. And so I could not hold a conversation. I took a few ESL classes at Whatcom Community College. Then eventually I started learning English watching shows with closed captions and texting friends. All my family lives in Mexico — it was just my son and I here. I started working at the casino. I worked there for almost seven years. I started cleaning rooms, to working in kitchens, then I left that job and I started working as a kitchen manager in a retirement home, and then I applied for this job. I am lucky to say this is my third year now.

I am the registrar. I do the health room. I’m the administrative assistant for the counselors. I have two clubs here at Kulshan; WE club, and Pokemon Go Club that we run with one of the school counselors. I coach track, volleyball and cross country.

Now I go to college, too. I work full-time, coach and take two classes at a time. I have an amazing little family with my partner Matt, and two wonderful kids, Paulo and Avianna. My son is 12, he’s in sixth grade here at Kulshan, and my daughter just started Promise K. She’s very, very excited about it.

Yes, my Spanish comes in handy. When there’s things that are more immediate that happen, yes, it’s absolutely amazing having that, being capable of communicating and connecting with our families, with our community. I really want them to know they are part of us, they belong here and are welcome. They should feel that they could come at any given time and there’s someone there to help them.

It blows my mind how much love and care you feel from everyone at Kulshan. I think as a parent more than as an employee, one of the things I love about Kulshan is how much my son loves coming to school. It’s like any parents’ dream, when your kids say, ‘I just love school so much.’ I always ask, ‘who’s your favorite teacher?’ and he says, ‘are you kidding me? I can’t pick only one.'”

Linda Erickson, attendance administrative assistant at Whatcom Middle School

Linda EricksonThis is my thirtieth year at Whatcom. It has been like a little bit of heaven on Earth all these years. I have loved all the administrators and the teachers. I originally wanted to be where my kids were. We had four kids in five years. I wanted to be able to volunteer in the school. I wanted to know kids and to know teachers and to be able to help. I did noon duty for a number of years, monitoring the halls. I actually loved it. It gave me time with kids. 

Eventually, they needed a student aide so that was a couple more hours. I also helped out in the attendance office until I was hired full-time. My plan was to move on to high school when all my kids were there, but my kids were ok. And the need wasn’t there, it was here. 

Some kids feel insecure. A lot of them need a friend and I think in middle school an adult can be a really good friend for a kid. And then they do drop you. They just don’t come and see you, and it’s wonderful because most often it means they found a spot. I think it’s the adults who fill in at middle school until the kids get on their feet and feel more secure. 

What I really want is that every day I make a difference in someone’s life. I never need to know who. I don’t care if they are old or young, are big or little, if it’s a parent or a grandparent, I want to make a difference in someone’s life by making their day easier or better just because of some small interaction. 

I was asleep when I got the text that the building was on fire. I ran down here and much of the staff was already here. We watched it all night. The fire never came to the ground. There were 60 mile an hour winds and the fire swept across the roof. It was just a remarkable wind and a remarkable scene and really, really sad. We just watched it all night and morning until it was light out.

I was placed at Geneva with the sixth grade. I remember that it was probably in December and I was on en route to Geneva. I was at the top of Alabama Hill and I noticed an eagle soaring up above and I noticed that the sky was blue and the clouds were white. That’s when I realized that for six weeks I had not seen color. Everything had been gray.

For a year and a half, I would drive by the construction regularly on weekends and I’d drive by after school. Dawson Construction would be there on Saturdays and they would be here on Sundays. I would stop on D street and watch them work on it. Somebody would get off his piece of equipment and I’d run over to them and say that’s my school and thank you.

I was so afraid we would never get back. I didn’t know if it would come back and really be our school again. There was just grief in every single direction.

When it re-opened, it was wonderful; it was just a big reunion having the kids back and there were still enough familiar faces and the building was so beautiful. It still had wide hallways and the main structure was the same. We are happy to have a building that works in every way and is so beautiful. It’s a great story.”

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