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Schools foundation honors teachers, awards grants

Valerie Brown receives the Extra Mile Award plaque during last week’s school board meeting from South Whidbey Schools Foundation vice president Chris Gibson.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Valerie Brown receives the Extra Mile Award plaque during last week’s school board meeting from South Whidbey Schools Foundation vice president Chris Gibson.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Two South Whidbey Elementary School teachers won $500 awards for their service to South Whidbey School District students.

Nels Bergquist and Valerie Brown received the gifts from South Whidbey Schools Foundation vice president Chris Gibson at a recent school board meeting.

Bergquist won the Excellence in Teaching: Mentorship Award, including $500 and a plaque in his honor.

The award is given to an educator nominated by the graduating class, which in Bergquist’s case was the class of 2011.

“What’s interesting is none of those students had him for about four years,” Gibson said. “He had such a significant impact that it carried on for four years.”

Bergquist teaches fourth grade at South Whidbey Elementary School this year. He has been with the district for eight years and has taught a range of classes from the elementary school through South Whidbey High School including math, social studies, English, physical education, creative writing and public speaking.

“It’s just a real honor to receive the award,” Bergquist said. “I work with a lot of really deserving teachers.”

“I couldn’t have done it without the support of a number of other great teachers in our district, in particular at the middle school.”

He credited former middle school principals Greg Willis and Rod Merrell for encouraging “outside the box thinking.” One of the programs Bergquist said he felt made a lasting impression on students was Langley Middle School’s Adventure Education, which he led for five years.

“I got to know a lot of them pretty well through that, because it was five to 10 day trips,” Bergquist said.

“It’s a character-building class. I was also able to wrap academics into it,” he said. “It gave students a real reason to do writing and research, preparing for and reflecting on trips. Some of the best essays I read were reflections on the trips.”

Brown won the Extra Mile Award. She also received $500 and a plaque for her work with disadvantaged students and in the library.

Brown’s colleagues in the district nominated her in recognition of her 20 years helping South Whidbey’s students.

“For years she’s made it a place where kids want to go,” said Gibson, also the grant committee chairman. “In her 18 years with the district, she’s become somebody people rely on year after year.”

Gibson presented the awards to Bergquist and Brown at last Wednesday’s school board meeting. The mentorship award was created nine years ago by Steve Shapiro and Debora Valis to give students an opportunity to acknowledge teachers who demonstrate leadership and mentorship.

“It allows the graduating class to give something to a teacher who was particularly inspiring to them,” Gibson said.

The Extra Mile Award is sponsored by an anonymous donor.

It was a busy week for the foundation’s check writers. In addition to the two teaching awards, Gibson presented a check for $18,817 in teaching grants for two dozen South Whidbey educators. Fundraising for the schools foundation increased this year, nearly doubling from $10,000 to almost $19,000.

“This year we raised more money than we ever have before; it’s a generous community,” Gibson said. “We decided to go ahead and award as much money as we could and still keep our books open.”

The schools foundation received 27 applications from 24 teachers in the district and awarded every grant.

“All of them were worthy, so we funded them,” Gibson said. “I’d like to think the efforts of the foundation’s board brought in some more money … I also think a lot of those people who could help, did, and gave a lot of money.”

“The school district on South Whidbey has been a point of pride for people on the South End,” Gibson added.

One of the highlights of the two dozen awards was the Kindle e-reader program. Last year, the foundation awarded money to purchase five Kindles for the special education classes, after an application by Charlie Davies at the high school.

Gibson said the e-readers aide disadvantaged students.

“They allow the students to keep up with their classmates because of the audio option,” he said. “They don’t have to read the textbooks, they are read to them.”

This year, the foundation will fund the $550 online subscription for reading materials.

Other grant winners from the elementary school are Katherine Mack, Kathy Stanley, Christie Elliot, Suzanna Haugen, Dayle Gray, Kimmer Morris, Susan Milan, Robin Roberts and Sue Raley.

The Bayview School and Whidbey Island Academy received a handful of grants for Mary McLeod, Charlene Ray, David Pfeiffer and Lana Johnson.

Langley Middle School teachers won a half-dozen grants for DeAnn Ross, Jess Foley, Don Zisette, Charlie Snelling and Mary Eaton.

The six teachers at the high school, including Davies, who received grants are Jay Freundlich, Chris Harshman, Jeff Greene, Steve Jones and Don Wodjenski.

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