Photo collage of Luz Lopez, Kaveh Ahmadi, Corey Ayers and Doug Benjamin

Luz Lopez

“I grew up in a very small community. In a way, we felt sheltered and happy because we didn’t really need to use our English skills. Our friends and family always spoke Spanish and I did not need to use my English skills. As a child I moved back and forth from the states to Mexico. Most of my elementary years were in Michoacan, Mexico. I didn’t become fully bilingual until I was in high school.

I like to address the language part — how can I connect with the families, students at a different level. Using their home language and their experiences in the classroom. Let’s say I’m working on a writing project, I might not use the same prompt for all my students because not everybody has had the same experience. I’m still addressing the writing and reading standards but at their own level and interest. How do I make prompts accessible for all my kids to write about — maybe not a trip to Hawaii, but write about an experience they have had. What if they travel to Mexico every summer?

You know the interesting part about being in an IB school, the kids know many Spanish words and other languages. And so there is that buy-in already. I have bilingual books and I notice that a lot of my monolingual students, when I’m reading with them, and they are already noticing, “Hey, this is in Spanish. I want to learn Spanish. Can you read it in Spanish now?” Today they were like, “It’s cold. You speak Spanish, right? Cold is frio! I know a word in Spanish.” They are making those connections easily and they are interested.

I love listening to the kids talk. Talk is a big part of our classroom routine. Partner talk, group work, collaboration. Making sure the kids are collaborating. When I hear students talking to each other, when I hear kids disagreeing, I really enjoy it because I know they are revising their thinking, listening. So, what is someone else thinking? How is their thinking different than mine? They are really trying to connect and communicate and share ideas. Even though we might not share the same ideas in our classroom community, we can still be friends and we can still work together.” – Luz Lopez, Teacher, Alderwood Elementary School

 

Kaveh Ahmadi

“I speak Farsi and Greek. My family moved from Iran to Greece when I was one. I learned Farsi in the home and I went to school in Greece until 4th grade, and then we moved to the U.S.

I moved up here for the history program at Western. 80% into it, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. I always loved history, and coming from those two cultures, I wanted to do something with that. Maybe work for the government, put those language skills to use? A friend mentioned I should work for the YMCA and that it was really fun. At the Y I learned I loved working with kids and that I was pretty good at it.

Sharece Steinkamp, assistant principal at Cordata at that time, hired me as a paraeducator and I was lucky to have someone guide me through all that. After doing the para job, I realized I love working with this age group and that there weren’t a lot of male teachers in the primary grades. Lots of kids don’t have a male figure in their home life and I could see the impact that that had on them.

I was still working on my degree; I had slowed down to taking one class every quarter. I paused to see if I wanted to become a teacher. A colleague told me about an alternate two-year program at Western to get into teaching while you continue working. This program helped me finish my history degree and a second BA in elementary education.

If you are thinking about being a teacher, I want to tell students that you can do it. I was doing pretty bad in high school. I was from an immigrant family, and my parents didn’t have the language skills to help me with homework. I was flying under the radar. Now that I’m a teacher, I hope to connect with kids that are like me, who came from my background…immigrant, low income, a family that moved a lot…and show them that they can still do this.

I love Bellingham. I don’t see myself moving now that I found a community. I think that is one of the draws of this job, the community aspect of it: knowing kids, knowing families, knowing other staff members, getting involved with things we do as a school. It feels good to feel like you are a part of a community again.” -Kaveh Ahmadi, first grade teacher, Geneva Elementary

 

Corey Ayers

“I graduated from Sehome in 1996 and that was the year our basketball team was undefeated and went on to win the state championship. The old gym functioned as the main assembly space and showcased the culture and spirit of the school; elements of the old gym were salvaged and featured in the new building.

The sports fields at the old school were terrible. The soccer field flooded from late October until April with about an inch of water on it. The baseball field was the crown jewel of Sehome sports fields, but drainage problems prevented year-round use.
Sehome really needed to be rebuilt and I think that the new design is much more appropriate — it’s all connected and encourages daily interaction with your peers. The sports fields surround the building and are in use all year.

Before joining the district in 2019, I worked with Dawson on the rebuild of Sehome. We built the new school while the old school was still in session, so, and I was reminded of the limitations of the old building. I was there from the first foundation all the way through the opening. I remember walking through and thinking, ‘Wow, this place is going to be incredible.’ Watching staff move in and personalize spaces – spaces that just weeks prior were all similar – was amazing. The building was transformed and awaiting occupants.

That’s why I’m in construction — because it goes from being a building to a school when it’s occupied. To see how it works and how it’s being used, it’s just amazing.” – Corey Ayers, Capital Projects Manager and Sehome High School alum (’96)

 

Doug Benjamin

“I have to admit I was not a good student when I was in high school. I paid enough attention to get through and graduate but I didn’t know that I was good at school until I was in college. It wasn’t so much the information as certain skills I was lacking. I kind of had to play catch up. I certainly wanted my kids and anyone else’s to be a little better prepared than I was.

I have been on the board for seven years now. It’s been a great experience. My first year was intense learning. I spent many hours a week reading and studying and getting a better grip on how the public education system works, especially being in a leadership position. I realized what an amazing district we have and how progressive we are and how other districts around the state look at us all the time.

Everybody knows that The Bellingham Promise says that “all children should be loved.” At a state conference once, a board member from another district introduced herself and said, “Where are you from?” and I said, “I’m from Bellingham” and she said, “Oh, you’re the ones that are going to love your kids! How did you guys get that in there?” And what I realized is how people around the state were looking at how bold we were and how honest and brave we were to include that in our strategic plan.

I was told it’s the hardest job you will never get paid for and I think that’s true. There was a single event that was the hardest day on the board. It was in 2017. I received a call from Dr. Baker. In a distressed voice he told me that we had lost Tanya Rowe, the late executive director of communications. I fell into a chair, we talked briefly, and I cried.

It would be an incredibly hard thing to lose a senior staff member, especially in such a horrible and needless way. Tanya and I had had several discussions and connected around both of us having cancer at roughly the same time and going through all the decisions and treatment. In the end we both beat it. Losing her was like someone cutting a piece of my heart out. I don’t want to be dramatic, but it’s a very important part of my story with the district. Part of being “human” I guess.” – Doug Benjamin, school board member

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