Heroes in Our Community
While we often recognize the heroic efforts of law enforcement professionals and firefighters, we sometimes forget about the heroes in the classroom. No group of people touches a broader part of our community daily than teachers and paraprofessionals.
Every day, the men and women of Ukiah Unified School District work with almost 6,000 kids, teaching them, caring for them, feeding them, and helping them cope with all kinds of challenges. Challenges range from learning English as a second language, living out of a car, navigating the dangerous world of gang affiliation, or just trying to manage the hormone storm of adolescence. We also have a large population of children with special educational needs. Ukiah Unified employees work hard to meet the needs of every single student, no matter how complex or difficult.
Laurel Angeli, a fifth-grade teacher at Yokayo Elementary School is all about “paying it forward.” She incorporates the life lessons her father taught as she creates lessons for her students. Laurel starts each academic year by reading a book with her class about how individuals can change our world for the better by making a positive impact on people's lives. That theme is continued throughout the year with “Thoughtful Thursdays” and lessons focused on kindness and giving back. It truly amazes me that as our kids are learning math, English and history, teachers like Laurel are also teaching our kids how to be better human beings.
Melidy Lane is a Language Arts teacher at Pomolita Middle School. She starts each day at the door of her classroom greeting her students. Melidy describes teaching as a screaming roller coaster ride; it is special and hard. She is passionate about teaching English and children. She works throughout the year teaching students to listen, speak, read, and write: the four basics of language. Every year, she takes her students through a “team-building boot camp” that shows students their bigger roles in society. To motivate herself and her students, Melidy often keeps assignments from the beginning of the quarter and shares them with her students at the end of the quarter—the students are blown away by the improvement in their writing. Melody says that if you stop and listen to what kids say, it’s easy to appreciate how amazing they are.
Rose Easterbrook teaches art at Ukiah High School. Her class offers sanctuary to students who sometimes struggle socially or academically. Naturally an introvert, Rose blossoms in the classroom. She uses current events to craft lessons that capture her students’ imagination, and she earns their trust because they recognize her genuine interest and investment in them. For example, recently Rose incorporated the Google Arts and Culture App to inspire one of the most challenging assignments for many, the self-portrait, with fantastic results.
Teachers are only some of the many amazing people at Ukiah Unified who influence and teach our children. Our students also benefit from the work of paraprofessionals (formerly called aides). “Paras” work side by side with teachers, providing essential support. One such para is Michael Frick, who works in the autism program at Eagle Peak Middle School. Michael and his colleagues who work with this population help teach students how to interact with others. Activities we find simple, like eating lunch with friends, can be difficult for an autistic student. Michael says the nature of his work can be very difficult and frustrating, but looking back at the progress each student has made always helps to refocus his efforts. For the first time in his working career, Michael says he has a sense of true service to his students, their families and our community.
As a school board member, I have the privilege of visiting school sites and each time I do, I see Ukiah Unified employees who are passionate about their work. When I talk to teachers and paras, they praise the team that supports them. Molding 6,000 young individuals to be successful when they move on to the next phase of their lives is no small task, but our teachers and paras do it every day, leaving an impression on our children that lasts a lifetime.