Why I'm proud to be a Washingtonian (and how 2017 reaffirmed it)

David Bley

December 18th, 2017

I’ve spent more than four decades in Washington State and am proud to call the Pacific Northwest home for me and my family. The second I came to this region, I knew it was home, and each year, I become more humbled to be a part of this engaged and compassionate community.

This year has brought its share of challenges, but through it all, we’ve grown and thrived together. Looking back on 2017, thanks to you — our grantees, partners and the community — we have much to celebrate. Time and time again despite tremendous stress, we’ve renewed our commitment to all students and their families, working with partners to forge new pathways to opportunity for all students in Washington State.

Washingtonians are invested in their communities. I’ve seen it firsthand, from Tacoma celebrating continued success with students and families, to leaders in Spokane rallying support to address youth homelessness.

Here are the top five reasons I’m proud to be a Washingtonian.

1. We are driven to progress for all our students

We are bound by our belief that every child deserves a chance to reach their full potential, regardless of their race, ethnicity, income, ability, or gender. And this means being creative, flexible, and holistic in our approach to meeting every child’s unique needs.

At Spokane’s Pride Prep, a charter public school, students are hitting their stride after being a part of a school — a community — that offers a different environment, one that honors and matches each student’s individual learning style. It’s this inclusive approach that helped Pride Prep sixth grader Edee Morse flourish. Edee struggled with reading prior to enrolling in Pride, but now she receives patient and intentional instruction, a testament to Pride’s strong special education program.

While much attention is given to the need for improving educational opportunities for students in communities of color, too often we don’t hear from students themselves. This year, the Road Map Project aimed to change that with the release of Start With Us, a report driven by what Black high schoolers in South King County and South Seattle tell us what they need from the education system. Among the report’s findings are the need to create an education environment that is responsive and reflective of what students experience in everyday life.

2. We have world-class teachers

In classrooms across our state, teachers are working hard to meet the unique needs of every student. Whether it’s making up pop songs for algebra concepts, tying a language arts lesson to a Harry Potter metaphor, or spending extra time making sure a student gets it right — these are the teachers we hope all our children will have a chance to learn from.

Teachers like 2017 Washington State Teacher of the Year, Camille Jones, who found a clever way to teach engineering to a group of 5-year-olds. Or Mandy Manning, the 2018 Washington State Teacher of the Year from Ferris High School in Spokane. Mandy teaches English and math to refugee and immigrant students. Her commitment to students, families, and colleagues inspires all of us at the foundation.

3. We believe in our youngest learners

Pre-K helps children build foundation skills that support the rest of their learning and life journeys. And when we invest with communities in high quality pre-K opportunities, we close achievement gaps in Kindergarten and beyond. We see this come to life in classrooms like the full-day pre-K program at Bailey Gatzert, where they serve a predominantly low-income and immigrant community. Watch this short video to see how Bailey Gatzert is helping young learners start out strong.

Our early learning work is led by Marquita Davis, who we welcomed to our team this year after her 28 years of commitment to the children of Alabama. Marquita and her team spend every day to meet the promise that every child, every day has high quality interactions with the adults in their life. Find her on Twitter for updates on the work.

4. We are welcoming

When we most needed to, we came together as a community to support students. Washington State mobilized to show Dreamers their support. This was possible because of the dedication of several organizations standing up for all kids in our state, sending a message that we believe so deeply: Every family is welcome here. Organizations like OneAmerica and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which quickly rallied together to host a number of public forums and share resources to support Washington Dreamers.

We believe that every young person in Washington State deserves an opportunity to realize their dreams and fulfill their purpose and potential. Education is still the best way to make that possible.

5. We know we can do better

Often, we are heads down and focused on the work, and then we see headlines that stop us in our tracks. Like just last month, we learned that graduation rates in the U.S. hit an all-time high. That’s amazing, but we don’t pause long because we know there is more work to do — and that begins right here at home, where our state lags behind national gains . (Despite encouraging progress in places Tacoma and Highline Public Schools).

We know that challenges lie ahead for our state. Too many students and families are experiencing homelessness. Not enough of our youngest learners are in a high quality early learning setting. The achievement gap persists. But these are the very challenges that get us out of bed each morning — hungry to seek solutions so that every student has access to the opportunities they deserve.

We know that progress is possible because we see it. When families, schools, and communities work together in a nurturing and stable environment that supports each child — addressing their academic, social, and developmental needs from the very beginning — it creates a cycle of prosperity that benefits us all.

We’re proud to work alongside this community. Thank you for helping us learn and grow this year. Onward to 2018.

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