Guest column: Celebrating teachers

I interrupt my usual column schedule with an announcement! I can’t really call it breaking news, but I bet it felt like that to the teachers and staff of Sequim High School when they walked into the admin building the morning of Aug. 28.

They were greeted by a gang of community well-wishers which included people from the Sunrise Rotary, Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, Connect 4 and the school board.

High school staff were on their way to the first meeting of the school year being held in the library and found themselves walking between two lines of cheering and clapping supporters.

Reaction ranged from shyness to high-fiving the cheering crowd. I personally observed one teacher I know who enjoyed it so much she went through the lines twice to loud cheers. I’ll never tell she was a middle school teacher.

Once everyone arrived, the community well-wishers were invited into the library. We stood next to a long table of gooey breakfast rolls along with a good supply of grapes. School principal Shawn Langston began the meeting welcoming back his staff – the people most responsible for exciting students to learn during the last lag of their K-12 journey.

“Now you know how the new freshman students feel when they go between lines of teachers and staff on their first day in high school. You’ll probably be more understanding after this,” Langston said with a laugh.

New and improved!

Next, he explained the gathering of well-wishers and their surprise for the staff. Their breakroom was redone over the summer holiday!

Turns out it wasn’t a surprise for more than half of them because they’d already been in the room. I know because I was in the room the week before when some, getting a head start on the school year, entered the room to check their mailboxes.

“Amazing” was the most common expression I heard. The most common look was semi-shock at seeing the transformation followed by a broad smile.

I knew why. I had the opportunity to see the “before” breakroom and can personally testify to the state of the bleak, non-descript, multipurpose area of which one was to serve as a breakroom for high school staff.

Ordinarily, I would have no reason to be in the high school breakroom, but I was there for good reason a little less than a year ago. I belong to a small group of community folks who came together nearly two years ago and formed a loosely organized group for a twofold purpose – building a positive connection between the community and Sequim Schools and recognizing district teachers and staff. We call ourselves “Connect 4” which stands for connecting community, schools and resources for educational support.

Primarily, we try to connect and support persons who have an interest in providing an expertise to a teacher and a teacher who needs an expert and/or supplies for a project. We have three active projects now and lots of ideas.

One of our members, Shenna Younger, is married to a high school teacher and she was very familiar with the breakroom. She thought the teachers deserved a better space and proposed a project to improve it in recognition of what the teachers do.

Shenna arranged a visit to the breakroom and we met Langston, who was totally on board with the project goal and a volunteer designer. Clearly, a good redo was more than weekend painting and we began a search for a way to accomplish what was turning out to be a complicated endeavor given that just about everything needed some TLC. The way appeared this past spring.

Community steps in again

The room wasn’t always so inglorious. The addition to the administration building was built from the ground up in 1983 by a group of volunteer teachers and parents to fill a desperate need for space.

Thirty-five years later, another community group stepped up to fill the need to refresh and create a welcoming space. Sunrise Rotary, recognized for multiple contributions to the community, approached Shenna for ideas around meaningful projects for the school.

She told them about the dream for the room and took them to see it. They barely hesitated to take on the entire project under the lead of Rotary member Ann Flack. The Rotary secured a grant from the district office of the Rotary and solicited substantial donations from Strait Flooring, First Federal, Sound Community Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Sears Sequim, Office Depot, Sherwin-Williams Paint, Defiance Plumbing and Kirsch Electric.

And, the very handy Rotary members began the peeling, scraping, painting and general overhaul of the breakroom over three months. The last remaining bits were put in place the morning of the first day of school for the staff.

The total dollar cost, including donated labor (except Rotary volunteers) and materials, was $13,200. Labor contributed was about 450 hours.

Langston recognized the Rotary and donors which was greeted with appreciative applause from the teachers. He then turned the meeting over to Ann Flack for a few words. She praised the staff, saying, “We (the community) did this for you in appreciation for doing one of the most important jobs – educating our youth.”

Everyone started applauding everyone – the school district and its staff and the caring community. The meeting was adjourned temporarily and everyone, staff first, went to cut the ribbon to the new and improved staff breakroom.

Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years.