Gov. Jay Inslee visited teachers and students at Renton High School on May 4 to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week.
Before signing a proclamation to declare this first week of May officially Teacher Appreciation Week in Washington state, Inslee met with teachers and educators at Renton High School to learn more about the needs of their students as well as hear the challenges teachers and students faced during the pandemic.
One staff member emphasized barriers their low-income students face in contributing funds to extracurricular student-body activities, which are funded by fees paid regularly by students. She said there is funding for some students from low-income backgrounds, but Renton High School has a high population of low income students, making funding extracurricular programs and activities difficult for the entire student body.
Inslee’s wife Trudi, who also attended the event, emphasized the importance of these extracurricular programs in getting students involved not just with academics, but also with the community around them.
Inslee said any “user-funded” system is bound to lead to inequalities within that system.
One educator said he believes the pandemic has dealt a “real blow” to students’ overall academic confidence.
Julianna Dauble, president of the Renton Education Association, said there is not only a high-demand for teachers in the district, but there is also a dire need for more paraeducators, special education teachers, school counselors and psychologists.
Dauble said it is “impossible to overstate the need” for mental health resources she had noticed amid the pandemic. She said there is a eight-month waiting list for students to receive external mental health services. This lack of access affects students’ well-beings, and also has a spillover effect on teachers and educators, she said.
With the environmental and societal stress factors such as the pandemic, divisive national politics, social issues, and climate change, Dauble said children and students are certainly impacted from a mental well-being perspective.
She said without solid mental health resources, students often bring the lingering effect of their environmental traumas into the classroom, leaving the teachers to “pick up the pieces.”
Teachers are not always prepared or properly equipped to “meet the needs” of individual students, Dauble said, and this has created a burnout effect on an already stress-taxed workforce.
New program in Renton schools
With a teacher shortage crisis as teachers drop out of the profession altogether, Renton is piloting a program to build their educators workforce with students from inside their district.
Inslee was introduced to students in the district’s Renton Teacher Academy, who are enrolled in a high school course that looks to fast-track students into the teaching profession with hands-on experience in classrooms.
A facilitator of the program explained the program was piloted after a lack of diversity was identified within the state’s workforce of teachers during 2008. It was designed to get Renton’s teachers to more closely resemble what the community’s student body looks like.
Students who participate in the program are guaranteed an interview with the district, said Superintendent Damien Pattenaude. Even if the students ultimately decide teaching is not for them, it is designed so they will gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of what teachers do for their community.
Inslee, whose father was an educator, said “there are not a lot of ways you can affect someone’s life more than being a teacher.”