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ANOTHER VOICE: The many hands helping child through school

Dear Hood River County School District and Hood River County School Board:

We are all aware of the difficult choices you face: budget cuts, boundary decisions, personnel issues, student conduct, and countless other details that you receive little or no thanks for. I would like to take a few moments to congratulate and thank you!

I am the mother of a graduating senior. My son has had the privilege of attending schools in Hood River County School District from the start of first grade.

Being a schoolteacher myself, I am often faced with the concern parents have of sending their children to public school. I find myself assuring parents that public education is the best place for children. It is a place that ultimately prepares them for the “real world.”

Yet, when it became my turn to send my son, I felt uneasy and anxious that my child would not thrive in public education. He was unique! He was bright, creative, and dressed like a pirate until he was 5 years old. How could the standard educational program meet the unique needs of my child?

I enrolled my son in Mid Valley for first grade. I was nervous as I led him into Mrs. Benjamin’s first-grade classroom. I locked eyes with Mrs. Benjamin as if to say, “You better take care of my Little Angel.” Her eyes simply softened my harshness as if to say, “All will be fine.” And so it was!

Our son learned so much at Mid Valley Elementary School. He learned in second grade the love of reading. Mrs. Dethman, with her caring eagerness, made him a curious reader and his love of books was born.

Third grade enhanced his love for numbers. Mrs. Osborne challenged our son’s mathematical mind with number puzzles and he has manipulated numbers and formulas ever since.

Fourth Grade was met with social studies and history. Our son explored and experienced life on the Oregon Trail with Mrs. Gilkerson. Our summer vacation was spent retracing the Oregon Trail all the way through to Montana. He reads and studies history now for enjoyment.

The academic challenges provided by Mrs. Frazier and Mrs. Holt-Mohar helped our son become a responsible learner. Mid Valley taught him the seriousness of education and provided him a foundation on which he could be organized and ready to excel.

In spite of the comforts of elementary school, our son still had his ups and downs during those primary years. He learned what a true friend is. Through wonderful counselors, he learned how caring adults could help when grieving the loss of his beloved grandfather. He learned a sense of defeat when he did not land a desired role in Little Red. Most importantly, with the diversity of his school, he learned that the color of our skin plays no role in how we get along on the playground or in life.

Then came middle school. I’ll never forget the day I dropped him off at Wy’east, thinking to myself, “He’s too young and immature!” As he left my car with an awkward gait and a gawky body, all the students that morning looked so prepared and mature. At Wy’east the amazing staff knew just what to do with our gangly child. He joined the wrestling and football teams. There he learned the importance of teamwork and commitment. His coaches were amazing. These unique volunteers/minimally paid staff took our child under their wings and safely brought him into adolescence.

At Wy’east, our son learned more than just algebra, biology, and how to write a three-part essay; he learned how he could have an impact on others and on the world around him. From going to outdoor school in sixth grade to helping with the high-needs students in eighth, our middle school student learned that he could make a difference. He learned how he could shift his energy away from childhood selfishness to a more mature, positive outlook on the world around him. What an amazing time for maturity the middle school years are.

Then it was time to send our young teen to Hood River Valley High School. I remember the day that I dropped him off for freshman orientation. I was not only shocked that he was old enough to enter a high school, I was shocked that I could be old enough to have a high school student!

There was not a particular group or interest our son had when he entered high school. Other than joining Mr. Hillen’s music program at Wy’east or taking bit roles on stage with Mr. Danford’s Wy’east drama program, he had no particular track to follow.

After a few weeks of figuring out how to navigate the school, with crowds of students filling the HRV hallways, he happened upon the music department. He entered the band room and was immediately enthralled by the talent around him, and he never left. Mr. Steighner challenged our son to hear and to feel music in a new manner, one that would never change, but would change him forever. He applied his love of history and his talent in math to music and has since joined a band that has had their own successes.

Drama found its way into his life through Ms. Harry, who took our son along a new, and unexpected path. He learned how to express himself during a time in life that can be difficult. He learned how to use his voice and how to listen to others. From his musical experiences and his acting debuts, our son was on stage more than ever. He learned to be humble and proud at the same time. The four years that were spent at high school went so quickly. The entire school experience flashed by too fast.

The fact is, our child is not unique. He is like every parent’s child, entering school wide-eyed and full of promise. Like every child in Hood River County, our son was given an outstanding and individualized educational experience that met his unique needs. He never felt the shifts of administration or the effects of budget cuts.

Although some classes may have been too large, some peers may have been a challenge in classes, and he may have been unable to connect with some staff, his teachers never let on how long it would take to grade his devoted essay, or how stressed they may be with the high demands placed upon them. He always received immediate, personal feedback. Although textbook adoptions were passed over because of budget cuts, his teachers found creative ways to teach concepts that were always relevant, creative and appropriate.

Our son, like all other children of Hood River County School District, not only learned the importance of education, he also learned about the wonderful but challenging world around him. Like all the students of HRCSD, our son was given the opportunity to love and appreciate others, without judging backgrounds, abilities, socio-economic status or sexual preference. He was given the gift of a public education.

Thank you! Thank you, to all the staff of Hood River County School District. Thank you to the custodians and maintenance staff who make our schools shine from inside and out. Thank you to the drivers who face wet and icy roads in early morning hours. Thank you to the secretaries who welcome everyone with a smile, and give everyone their attention, knowing your list of tasks are beyond anyone can imagine.

Thank you to the teachers who walk tiny kindergartners down the hall and engage teenagers who have begun to question authority. Thank you to all the instructional assistants who often go unrecognized: from encouraging reluctant readers to putting band-aids on tearful second-graders. Thank you to the principals and vice principals who hold their heads high, and maintain composure while dealing with our parental concerns and simultaneously leading a strong community of learners and staff.

Finally, thank you to all the back-stage district office staff and school board members who are often unseen, making painful decisions that we too often criticize.

I would like to congratulate you for all your efforts, because my son and all his peers have had an absolutely amazing experience here in our unbelievable school district. Graduation hats off to you, as our senior and his friends toss their caps up into the sky on graduation day and leave the loving embrace of Hood River County School District!

Monika Schuller and her husband, May Street Elementary School Principal Kelly Beard, live in Mount Hood.

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