All of these interviews were recorded in early March before the closures.
Sam Carlton, kindergarten teacher at Alderwood Elementary School
“Coming to Bellingham through Western, I had all these intentions of being an English professor. But when I did my undergrad at Western I worked at the child development center for three years. And that kind of just like blew me away. All of a sudden hanging out with two to five year old’s, it just rocked my world.
I think what I love about kindergarten is it roots itself in something I wish would stay prevalent, really birth to anybody who is alive: I just really love the social emotional aspect of working with young children. I always kind of project forward, you know, what if I was an English professor? I think I would still carry that same mentality into the classroom of wanting to build that sense of community, that sense of welcome, that sense of love, that sense of wanting the students to be able to come into a space and make it their own.
It sounds kind of dorky but it really is a magical age. Every day, I meet them at the door and I get hugs and high-fives and it’s super genuine. Whether that is a hug for being sad, or a hug for just being so stoked to be coming to school. I take a lot of pride in setting that foundation for them to see school as a place where they should feel a sense of investment, a sense of ownership, a sense of community, and a sense of excitement about learning. Kids are just wild. And I can meet that wildness every once in a while.
One day, I read this book to them, Diary of a Spider. And I said, “you know, that’s an interesting word, does anyone know what diary means?” And one kid’s eyes got really, really big and they said, “Yeah I know what it means, Mr. Carlton.” I was like, “You do? What is it?” They said, “it’s when you have to go to the bathroom really, really bad and it’s kind of a lot and it doesn’t feel very good.” They went on and on. I had to hold back that laugh for awhile and say, “Oh you’re talking about when you feel sick and you have what they call diarrhea.” And I said, “No, this is ‘diary,’ which something you write in.” And the class was such a loving class and so accepting of each other that we had the best laugh possible. And nobody felt bad, it was just one of those natural moments where the other kids were like, “Yeah that kid is telling the truth!” And some of the kids were like, “Wait a minute, there is a difference in these words.”
I absolutely love music; I bring music into the classroom every day. Here, mainly I play the mandolin but I used to write and perform in a band and travel around and play and sing. Piano is my first love, also banjo, mandolin, and guitar.
I would just really stress for those that haven’t visited Alderwood or those that think they know Alderwood to keep coming, keep being here, keep seeing it, keep feeling it. Because I think the longer you stay here the more you feel it and the magic that the kids can bring here and also understand the amount of love and support we continue to have and need as a school and as a culture.
Alderwood is just such a unique place and I haven’t been anywhere else like it. And so I’m here. And I’ve been here. And I’m staying here. I’m going to keep being here. This is where I want to be.”
Paula Stratman, elementary support specialist counselor at Happy Valley Elementary School
“I’ve worked in Bellingham Public Schools for seven years now, but I also did my undergraduate practicum here at Happy Valley, a 900-hour internship through Western, and then a master’s degree practicum at Wade King. So in some ways I’ve really been with the district since 2008. I think coming back to Happy Valley was really important to me because I felt I had come full circle.
I’m actually a school social worker by trade. I have my master’s degree in social work and that provides me with a lens to look through. So I’m always looking at individuals, families and communities through a humanistic lens and strengths-based approach to supporting them.
I grew up in Ballard before it was cool! I grew up in a single-family household. Not well off at all. I think nobody ever talked to me about going to college. I didn’t even know my school counselor, if we even had one. When I finally figured out that I could go to college on my own and make my way through that system, that’s when I was drawn to it social work. I am a first generation college graduate in my family.
There were some really instrumental people in my life. I think the first person was my fifth grade teacher Mrs. West. I think I’m going to cry. She was really invested in knowing her students really well and she would meet us at the park and take all of us on bicycle rides every Saturday. She really went above and beyond and made a huge difference in my life.
In high school it was an attendance lady that noticed I missed a lot of school. She kind of brought me under her wing and made me attendance TA. She gave me a job and I was expected to be there. She wrapped her arms around me and I started really being a part of that community.
In college it was one of the advisors at Whatcom Community College who started talking to me. I had my associate’s degree and I wasn’t sure where I was going. She just came to me and said I’ve been watching you and I see you have this potential and you need to do something. She started talking to me a lot. I wasn’t even a student anymore.
My favorite thing is standing at the entrance of the school every day and greeting kids as they come in. I notice when they get braces and I notice when they get glasses and I notice their haircuts. I’ll have kids come up to me and say, “Where were you? You weren’t at the front door,” so it’s kind of a part of their day, too. That’s probably one of my favorite things that I do every day — getting a chance to see everybody.
I also collaborate with the school librarian one week a month. We partner with lessons. This way I see every classroom in the whole building. Without that, I might never get to meet or talk to that one quiet student — the one that was me growing up. It’s all those 90 percent of the students I want to connect with that might be quiet. I really look at that as being important.
I think my greatest satisfaction is the hugs and the smiles and the high-fives that I give and receive every day. The biggest compliment is for someone to give me a hug and tell me they love me. If a student tells me that they love me, I will always tell them I love them back.”
Paula’s photo is a selfie from home during the school closures.
Kevin Ryan, social studies teacher at Sehome High School
“The great thing with coaching distance running is that you can really have a chance to, regardless of the level of athlete, see the payoff for the work and see kids develop. Sometimes you get just as much or even more excitement out of how far some of your JV athletes come in a year than the varsity. Maybe you’re running at the lake in the summer and you see that kid who came in as a tentative JV runner, who just was out there to enjoy it or was reluctant at first–now here you see them six or seven years later out on their own and just running, they’ve made it part of their lifestyle, which is really cool to see. One thing we try to try to do is make lifelong athletes, so that’s really rewarding when you see that.
How did I start running? When I was in early elementary school my dad started running and so he would take my brother and me to the to the Greater Bellingham Running Club runs. Back then you just ran, you didn’t train much when you were young. Then I got to high school at Sehome, then running actually helped get me into Yale; I was recruited to run, the irony being that once I was there I was injured and not able to, but it got me there so that was good. They can’t get rid of you once you’re there whether you run or not, a great thing about Ivy Leagues not having athletic scholarships. I still enjoy it and I try to run year-round; as most coaches know, during the season your running falls apart. If you’re coaching a large team you can’t be doing much running yourself; you’re keeping an eye on everything. But out of season it’s enjoyable to get out on the trails.
I’ve been involved in coaching at Sehome for 25 years, but for most of that time working other jobs where I was still able to stay connected with the program. Then when the economy tanked I decided to go back to school. I had thought about it for over a decade and finally went back and got my master’s degree in teaching at Western, did my student teaching at Sehome, and then started subbing and was very fortunate to get hired into the social studies department here. I wish I had done it sooner, but maybe the time had to be right.
Now I’m teaching back where I went to high school—kids always ask, what are you doing here? They’ll hear where I went to college and ask, what are you doing teaching?
Because it’s an extremely important profession and I like it. That’s something to get across to the kids — find something you enjoy, not what you think you’re supposed to do or what you think might make the most money. I love it every day; I think it’s awesome. It was exciting to finish up in the old building and then be here for the new building; some people say, you’re in the same place you were 30 years ago—30 year reunion is coming up this summer! But I love it. It’s a place I love to live, it’s something I love doing, it’s a lifestyle I enjoy, so I wouldn’t give it up.”