Jenny Lawrence, Tonian Gray and Tyler Dockins

Jennifer Lawrence, COVID Coordinator and Teacher on Special Assignment

jennifer lawrence“Right before the big closure announcement, Kristi Dominguez asked me to collaborate with her on the area of child care. That was when the governor made the mandate for child care. It was now our job to navigate during this unique experience. Kristi took on the role of child care lead for Whatcom Unified Command. As part of that structure, she set up the Whatcom County Childcare Coalition and asked me to come and serve in the role of liaison between the districts and providers.

One thing led to another and soon I found myself learning and leading safety protocols, with our incredible nursing team, and I now know more about PPE than I thought I would ever know. We were in crisis and it was an all hands on deck approach. I have gained such an admiration for the silent heroes who were supporting our essential workers and their children. For the first time, these big providers were under a crunch of how to manage all these new mandates, health wise and safety wise. How were they going to stay open and provide this service to our essential workers? What do we do? What does this look like? We were reinventing systems and people were doing new jobs. I felt honored that they trusted me to walk alongside them and support them in figuring all these details out.

I feel blessed I’ve been out in the child care centers. I get to see the kids with kids, learning and laughing and I am excited for all to see that again. We forget about that human interaction that fills our buckets on a daily basis. I look forward to the students safely coming back to school and seeing a friend and teacher for the first time in a long time, it’s just pure joy. In the child care setting, we are modeling and practicing safety protocols, and there is a lot of learning and friendship in action. It’s beautiful to watch.”

Tonian Gray, Physical Education Teacher at Silver Beach Elementary School

tonian gray“I knew elementary teaching was where I belonged. When people ask me about my job, I tell them that it is probably 70% social emotional learning and 30% physical skill teaching. I get kids from the time they are five in kindergarten until they leave me when they’re 11 and off to middle school. A lot of social emotional growth goes on for them during those years. PE teachers get that special connection with them. In PE, there’s so much to learn socially on how to get along on teams and in groups. We teach sportsmanship and want to transfer that over into leadership skills. Eventually everybody will work for and with others. You have to get along with others you may not agree with.

I always try to take all the games and activities into things that they will learn as an individual…about being persistent, for example, about doing things that you’re going to struggle with at first. The persistence characteristic is huge and you want them to transfer it to real life situations. Silver Beach is a “leader in me” school which is awesome; it transfers well into PE. I always say that PE teachers are the social emotional learning experts.

As a specialist, I have the whole school. In my PE classes, we are trying to assess participation. I look and see if there is a kid that has not participated at all. I can reach out to mom and dad and just say “Hey, let me know if there’s anything I can do to make it easier.”

During the pandemic, I have become a better teacher because I’ve had to learn to work more with technology, how to do things differently, and how to reach different kids. We really are there to support one another. Seesaw let’s you interact. I can record my voice in response to their learning, and they can record back to me. We can send videos to one another.

I had a really nice email from a parent saying “Gosh, thanks for being so detailed talking to my son; it’s like you know him.” I kind of do know him. Those connections are huge. I know it’s time consuming, but I also know that it’s worth it. We gotta be ready to go back and still know each other. It was supposed to be our Jogathon today. I really miss those school community traditions.”

Tyler Dockins, Educational Technology Coach at Kulshan Middle School

tyler dockins“I started my life in Phoenix and moved to Bellingham in 7th grade. My mom had met my stepfather online in an AOL chatroom back in the dial-up modem days, so I like to joke around that my parents were the pioneers of online dating before it was cool.

I went to Shuksan and it was a wildly different experience from school in Phoenix. At Shuksan, I remember seeing science lab equipment that I had never seen before and nicer textbooks. My brother, who has an intellectual disability, received dramatically better services in Bellingham. It was a shock to me. That was one of my first pivotal moments in life, seeing how different the educational experience was from place to place.

After Bellingham High School, I went to UW and then joined Teach for America. I did that for two years and taught in the Phoenix neighborhood where I grew up. I got a chance to reconnect with families, teachers and friends from my childhood. There I witnessed that folks’ life outcomes were largely determined by where you grew up, but teachers can have the ability to change those outcomes. In Phoenix, I met my wife, Stephany, and she convinced me to move to Newark, NJ. I originally committed to be there for three years, and I ended up staying for eight years because of the amazing experience there. The kids and families there taught me a lot about anti-racism, and how to be a better teacher.

I came back home because I love Bellingham and it was important to be with my family and take care of my brother. I told my wife, literally on our first date, that ‘if this goes anywhere we’re going to end up in Bellingham, just so you know, so start researching Bellingham.’

Being back here, it’s been really cool to work alongside teachers who were my former teachers and who had a huge impact on my life like Marty Atkins, Stu Soderquist, Wendy Born, Scott Smartt and Steve Clarke. I had Sharece Steinkamp and Bruce Mansfield during their student teaching years and so that was cool to see the very beginning of their careers and now see them as incredible, game-changing people. I feel quite grateful to have had so many terrific teachers support me throughout my life.

This year, my job is quite different than it was at the start of last school year. The weeks leading up to school this year were long work weeks. I worked every day of the week and weekend. I would take some time with my family and then I would get back on the computer because it was like, we’ve got to reinvent school for kids and families. We’ve got to reimagine what this looks like, so, it was a pretty intense start.

For me the thing I’m geeking out on the most about actually has nothing to do with technology, but the way we are coming together to work as a team. I’m seeing math teachers work side-by-side from different schools, teaching similar content at the same time. It’s feeling more and more like One Schoolhouse. We are all sharing lessons across different schools, creating conditions for reflection and relentless improvement. Using technology like Zoom is allowing teachers from different buildings to meet more easily so we can make sure our kids get the best learning experience possible. One thing we know to be true is, that us working together collectively has the greatest positive impact on our kids.”


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