Three female staff people side by side

Humans of BPS is an ongoing series that tells the stories of the people who bring The Bellingham Promise to life. 

Photo of Kandace McGowan

Kandace McGowan, Drama and English Teacher, Sehome High School

“I’m from San Jose, California and a first generation college student in my family. I went to Santa Clara University and studied theater and psychology. I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher but I always loved working with kids and I loved doing theater and telling stories. I come to teaching from a social justice standpoint that education is accessible for all people and theater is for all people.

In a previous career I worked with the homeless population in downtown Seattle, working in social services. I decided that I wanted to pursue teaching and so I came up to Bellingham and went to Western to get my Master’s degree in teaching and here I am. I have a K-12 credential in theatre and in English.

While I was attending Western, I actually walked by a poster for a Sehome play The Three Musketeers and I said I should go see that. I met Vicki Chaney, who was the previous drama teacher, and we hit it off and became collaborators and friends. I volunteered with her for a while and I student-taught. She moved to Saudi Arabia the year that I was looking for a job and Sehome hired me. It was a mix of luck, timing and hard work.

I think one of the most powerful parts of being a drama teacher is that you can help students find their voice and find a way to express themselves. Theatre is for all people and it can be really powerful. That is the basis of all of my teaching – to find your voice and to be able to express it. It is so cool seeing a student learn to speak with power and pride and comfort enough to go in front of people.

This school year, the drama students are working on a show called Connect/Disconnect and it is all about connection and disconnection during this time. The students are using a process called devised theatre where you write and create your own show based on a contemporary topic. Our topic for this show is “What is it like to be a teenager during this time of 2020 and a pandemic?” We have a cast and crew planning it virtually. We’re asking questions like “what connects us? what brings us together? how do we stay connected? and what disconnects us? what drives us apart? It’s being devised/created right now so there’s no script. They’re creating their own script and determine what they want it to look like.

A big conversation that the kids had in the first few days of the project was about how they want other teens to see this show and to feel less alone. That’s one of their goals…to help teenagers feel less alone. When these kids saw each other for the first time again a lot of them cried because some of them hadn’t seen each other since March. They were just like “Oh, my gosh, my people, it’s so lovely to see you again.”

Photo of Minh Nguyen

Minh Nguyen, Assistant Principal, Alderwood Elementary School

“I grew up in Vancouver, WA. My dad is a Vietnamese refugee who came over to the U.S.. He was a paratrooper for the South Vietnamese army and he was in a refugee camp in the Philippines. He was sponsored to come over to the United States. He met my mom at a community college center for welcoming new refugees. She was helping with Vietnamese refugees and teaching them English. My dad’s educational experience in Vietnam probably goes to around sixth grade.

People always ask, how did you and your sister end up with advanced degrees, becoming the first two to ever attend and graduate college? Even though we grew up in poverty and didn’t have a path pre-carved for us, we were taught to work hard for what we want, and had the care and love of our family and we always knew that. . My parents sacrificed a lot for my sister and me. My dad worked the swing shift, so I only really saw him for a brief part of the day. My mom dedicated everything to me and my sister to help us be successful in life and told us she believed in us.

In my last year in college I took an anthropology class called the Anthropology of Education. This was a big “ah ha” moment where the class started talking about race and equity and I saw my own experience for the first time: No one could pronounce my name, I never saw books with characters who looked like me, I didn’t have any classmates that looked or sounded like me or who ate the foods that we ate at home. Although I had positive educational outcomes, it really started to make sense why racial minorities don’t always have equitable outcomes. It was that turning point when I decided I wanted to go into education to be an educator who was aware of these concepts to create a learning experience for kids to see themselves and develop their own confidences as learners and to value their racial and cultural backgrounds.

With kids back in school, I think like most people, it’s a roller coaster of emotions. There are many days where we read the news and we have worries and then you come into school and you see kids who are resilient who are adapting in safe ways. All of our adult worries are put at ease because we see the kids learning and being joyful even with masks on. Every day isn’t perfect but every day does bring joy to kids who need to be in school and want to be in school.

I’m excited to be here and to be in a leadership role in our district. And, like everyone, we’re wrestling with a complex issue that we’ve never had to experience before. Even though we experience challenging moments,  I wish everyone could be in a building and see kids learning and connecting —  you just can’t help but feel like this feels right; this is where we need to be.”

Photo of Counselor Kelly Boyer

Kelly Boyer, Counselor, Squalicum High School

“I actually wanted to be a school counselor since I was in seventh grade. I had some friends who went through a pretty hard time. We worked with my school counselor a lot, and I was like, this seems like a pretty cool job to have. And then it just stuck. Luckily, I like it!

During the closures, I’ve been able to support students who struggle with social anxiety or being in school, in general — I feel like they can access us more because we are able to be virtual and have phone calls. And we can be completely present rather than have someone knocking on our door. But it’s hard. It is hard not knowing what students are struggling with and not being able to just go to a classroom and grab a student to talk to them. I miss all those little interactions that happen throughout the day and now it takes five different steps to find the student from home.

I have been really empathizing with students when I talk with them and their parents. Sometimes just reminding everybody that high school students are taking eight online classes. I didn’t want to take one online class in grad school. I am just trying to reassure students in what they are doing, and reminding them that everything they are doing is a lot.

A lot of my kids are still working, and that’s been eye opening —  knowing there’s been some layoffs for parents and so some kids are the ones bringing in the money right now.  I have students that are 11th and 12th graders who must help their younger siblings get online and do all of that, so it stops them from being fully present in their classes too.

I am looking forward to being able to be in person safely and having more time with

students. And I really want to help seniors have a happy last semester and get to graduation. Having over a year and a half for their last years of high school virtual… I just feel for them. So, I’m looking forward to that and all the excitement that comes with the end of the year, regardless of how we’re able to do graduation.

I’m really thankful to be a part of this community and for all of the challenging conversations that are happening to push us forward. Overall I just want kids to know that we love them, and we are here for them.”

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