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Readiness to Learn director says she’s ready to retire

Mickie Nowlin has measured success one child at a time. During her career as the Readiness to Learn coordinator, Nowlin has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of South Whidbey children and their families.

Nowlin, who retired in January, leaves a legacy of successful students who have matured into productive community members.

During her 10 years as the first coordinator of the Whidbey Island Readiness to Learn program — one of the state’s pilot sites for the program — she and her staff of professionals and volunteers have changed for the better the lives of hundreds of children and 400 families. Readiness to Learn was created by the 1993 Legislature.

“It was a breakthrough program. It broke down the barrier between schools and families by linking them to human services,” Nowlin said.

She said the idea behind RTL is to help the child be more ready to learn and more successful in school. Students with poor attendance, poor grades, family instability or behavior problems can benefit from the program.

“Coming into the schools was something brand new, because schools were generally closed systems,” Nowlin said.

Island County Readiness to Learn links schools and local human services to form partnerships among schools, families and communities that provide opportunities for all young people to achieve at their highest learning potential and live in a safe, healthy environment. Teachers, parents or counselors can recommend a student for RTL support.

The program’s grant funding is administered by South Whidbey School District, but from the start it included the Oak Harbor and Coupeville school districts. Camano Island schools joined in 2000.

For this biennium, the local program will receive $225,000.

Nowlin explained that a support system of adults that includes school and human service professionals works with the family and student. Sometimes as many as 30 people participate with one family to work toward a student’s academic success.

“By building supportive relationships around the entire family, they are given the tools they need to survive,” Nowlin said.

“We are not Santa Claus. We help families learn how to give themselves gifts. The goal is long-term changes,” she said.

Two separate support systems are formed for the family. One consists of the parents, as the child’s primary caregivers, other family members and friends. The second group is professionals and volunteers.

“With support teams in place, the family is already less isolated and good things begin to happen,” Nowlin said.

“We assign a family support advocate, build the team, set up a whole system to support the entire family by building on their strengths and identifying needs,” she said.

Nowlin describes it as “a small program with tremendous impact.”

She is proud of the success stories, and is quick to recall several. She remembers one boy who was ready to drop out of middle school.

“A team worked with him through middle school and high school ... he graduated and was named most improved student.”

Nowlin said she is confident that the program will be in good hands with her successor, Gail LaVassar.

Nowlin made a career of caring for children. Before coming here, she was counselor at Rhyther Children’s home in Seattle, then became director of the Denny Shelter for homeless children Seattle.

Although she’s retired, Nowlin expects to be heavily involved in community activities as a volunteer, and also plans to spend more time with family and friends.

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