Julie van Wijk, principal at Cordata Elementary School
“I learned about France in fourth grade, in Social Studies, and I came home and told my mom, “I’m going to be French teacher!” And that’s what I did. I went to the University of Texas at Austin and majored in French language and literature. I originally thought I wanted to be a college professor, but realized teaching high school would be way more fun. After 20 years in the classroom, I thought, “Maybe I want to be an administrator!”
This is my first year as principal at Cordata. I think a lot has changed in the last 20 to 25 years as far as the role of school principal. Especially in the ‘70s and ‘80s when I was in school, you definitely did not want to go to the principal’s office.
But now, I’m excited to say that has changed. I eat lunch in the cafeteria with the students as many days as possible, and they write me kind notes and cards. I always make the joke, it’s like being a celebrity, because you walk down the halls and the kids are all excited to see you. I hope that I’m presenting that the principal is somebody who loves you and really cares about your education. And if you do have to come and talk with me, it’s going to be okay. If you made a mistake today, that’s okay. Tomorrow’s a new day and we will love you when you come back tomorrow, just like we love you today. We always love you and we’re going to help you make awesome decisions.
I think that we [principals] will always be educators at heart. The teaching has just shifted to working with the staff in that capacity. I also really believe that it’s important to be a lifelong learner. This is part of why I’ve gone back to pursue my doctorate at UW. It’s important for me to continue to learn that craft knowledge around leadership and especially around equity. Equity is a big driver for me. I very much believe that we’re all responsible for ensuring equitable experiences in our schools. That same idea is such a big part of The Bellingham Promise, and that’s what drew me to apply for a principalship here.
When my husband and I have some extra time, we love to drive around Whatcom County and learn more about our new home. I really love birds. I’m a huge bird nerd! I love that Cordata is surrounded by wetlands — every morning I stop for a few moments outside my car and just listen to the birds sing.”
Beth Eide, AIMS Teacher at Northern Heights Elementary School
“When I heard about AIMS it was a paragraph-long description of what this program was going to look like. We put together a great team of people to take it from that paragraph dream to a program. I think we are serving about 60 kids now at four different schools.
AIMS is an acronym for Access In the Mainstream Setting. The idea behind it is that we have students who displayed behaviors related to autism who are being served in different kinds of settings than they were four years ago. We have students who can be in a general education classroom and can be accessing the general education curriculum, but they might have some social skills they need accommodations for or functional routines within the classroom that need a little bit more assistance, so we have staff within classrooms to provide that support.
My job is to train my staff members on best practices for students typically with an autism diagnosis. I train staff from the first person you see in the morning to the last person that leaves the building.
I’ve seen incredible improvement in the school community. April is Autism Awareness Month and every year I go into every single classroom. The first year I just did an overview of autism and now we build on our knowledge as a school.
This is what inclusion is supposed to look like in a school and we are seeing progress. Kids are being invited to birthday parties they’ve never been invited to before. Parents can go out on a date and can have a babysitter come over because the skills don’t just stop at 2:30 p.m.
I think our district stepped into the fire. The fire was inclusion. I think I don’t want to work for a district that won’t step into the fire. Because every single time, we are doing it for kids. That’s the sole purpose of why we are doing it. I don’t think we could ever say that Bellingham isn’t at the service of children and their families. I appreciate that and I appreciate the support. That’s a good feeling. When we talk about The Bellingham Promise, we are talking about making kids the most well-rounded that we can, with all the services that we can provide. I mean the AIMS program in Special Education, we’ve been doing that for years! It just feels good to have a name for it.”
Kim Snider, Parent at the Bellingham Family Partnership Program
“I never saw myself as home schooling. This was not in the plan whatsoever. When my oldest went into kindergarten the only option was full day. By the end of his kindergarten year he was really struggling in a general classroom full of kids. His teacher was wonderful; she worked really hard and he was just in a hard place. This program was just opening, so I came here and I talked to Principal Kate. He ended up starting here the first full year of this program when he was in first grade and we just fell in love with this place. It’s kind of magical, that’s what I always tell everybody, it’s magical place, it really it is.
I taught at Central Kitsap School District for 18 years. I have loved the school system — I have been involved in the school system my whole life. I taught Special Education for a very long time, 14 years, and then taught 3rd grade for another four and just loved being in the classroom, too. But when we moved up here my youngest was a year old and I had already gone down to half-time and it was August. We had to make a decision and we just realized it was working for me to be home with our children.
This community at the Bellingham Family Partnership Program is amazing. Every single teacher here and Kate the principal, just love our families. I walk in the door and Principal Kate’s often greeting us as classes are starting and I’ll tell her “we made it!” And then we go off to our places and since the grownups have to be here, we get to visit with each other. That’s a really big benefit, being with other people in your same circumstances.
For those who have a negative stereotype of those who home school, I would say, come here and see. If you were to interview parents there would be a million different reasons why people home school. I think the socialization is much of the time what people are concerned about, and then when you come here you would see they have their friends. In the Spring, if you walk through the field, all of the parents will be out there with their picnic blankets and baskets and all the kids are playing on the playground and we just stay for hours after class and the kids have a great time.
To make a decision to home school because a typical school did not fit for your kid, and yet we’re still part of the district — that’s really cool. My fifth grader still gets to be a part of Mountain School, if my kids want to sign up for choir they can, they do assemblies and they perform. We do the core curriculum at home and the kids choose their classes here based on interest. I really like that because they love coming. There’s never a moment when they dread going. They are excited every single time because they get to choose.
My oldest loves band-aids. In the first year he was here, when he needed a break from class, we would know because he would come down to Caroll’s office to ask for a band-aid. And she would always give him one for whatever he was putting it on and some for his pockets. And so, throughout the years he’s coming down much less for band-aids, and hardly ever in the middle of class anymore, needing much less breaks.
He’s in fifth grade, and now they’re going to Mountain School. His teacher and Caroll have put together a care package for him which includes his band-aids. It’s just really sweet. They just know us through and through. He’s going with his teacher who he’s had since first grade. He says, ‘She’s like family. I’ll be fine, mom.'”