Thank you, Roosevelt Elementary


We live too close to Roosevelt Elementary to qualify for bus transportation, but too far away to walk. So for seven years, I’ve been there almost every weekday. In a few days, that will change.

I’ve been so busy with work and life that this transition snuck up on me. I remember being a wreck at Wyatt’s fifth grade graduation. This time around, for Loretta, I have been hoping that I pre-grieved it all then and we can just move smoothly onto middle school.

But you know me. I feel it all.

At the end of this post is a poem I wrote about Loretta, who lights up this house, her school, and this world with her hard work, exuberance, and ethic of inclusion. Middle school will probably hold some bumpy moments, but I’m not worried about her. She is ready, and it’s pure joy to see her growing up.

This entry is a tribute to Roosevelt Elementary. When we moved to Bellingham 7 years ago, we toured some schools before deciding where to look for houses. We had been in a few by the time we entered Roosevelt’s unassuming, low-slung doors. A few minutes through the halls though, and I turned to Yancey and said, “This is it.” My lens on Roosevelt has certainly been as a parent, but also as an organizational psychologist who has workplace culture on the brain all the time. It’s a place where students are loved, in large part because the staff loves one another. They are astoundingly clear about their mission to come alongside one another so each student can grow, learn, and experience belonging. Here are a few of my thank-you’s:

Thank you, Teri McKee and Vicki Niles. The above photo is from the goodbye assembly the students had for them this week. Teri has been the music teacher in Roosevelt’s legendary choir and music program for years, and Vicki taught both my children in 5th grade and is retiring after 4 decades of service. The staff organized an alumni flash mob for the assembly, and 50 middle and high school and college kids ran into the gym dancing as part of their goodbye. There wasn’t a dry eye. Neither of these women will ever start their day wondering, “Have I made a difference in this world?” or “What legacy did I leave?” Being part of this celebration was easily a highlight of my year, and the takeaways are obvious: Love. Love fiercely. Work diligently. Finish well. And have fun along the way.

Thank you, Steve Morse, Tom Gresham and Valarie Swenson, for your leadership. Two principals and one vice principal during my time there, all with practices of listening, visibility, empowerment, excellence, and collaboration. This NYT article confirms what I’ve experienced, that great school cultures can’t be build without this kind of leadership. A privilege to behold.

Thank you, Robin Russell and staff, for your powerhouse assemblies. Assemblies at Roosevelt focus on character development—things like persistence, compassion, equity, kindness. I often have the thought that most the adults in my orbit need to be present for these on Thursday mornings. And these gatherings remind me that yes, we are creating a better world. The children trying their best to sit still are soaking up these messages, and they are our future voters, parents, teachers, politicians, business leaders, doctors, inventors, entrepreneurs, and visionaries.

Thank you, Meridith Hansen and Sarah Fairchild, for welcoming Wyatt on his first day of 3rd grade. We had just moved, he was nervous and lonely. You saw that right away and you introduced him to students who are still some of his closest friends today. I know it wasn’t long before his shyness completely melted away. Sigh.

Thank you, Michelle Ostendorff and Gretchen Simmons, for your patience with Loretta’s separation anxiety in the first days of kindergarten. Loretta is aghast now when I tell her the story of screaming and kicking you, Michelle, when I walked away that first morning. I remember Steve (principal) taking my elbow and sitting down with me in another room nearby so I could hear that she did in, fact, calm down. And now, she runs the school. Sigh.

Thank you Jenny Christensen and Megan Thygesen, for your patience with Wyatt in his fourth grade Chatty Chatterton stage, and all while the two of you were having babies of your own! I always marveled at the energy you brought in after sleepless nights with infants. It never once seemed as if you students got less of you. What a miracle.  

Thank you, Jackie Brown, for modeling to me what mindfulness and patience look like. Loretta’s second grade classroom with you had some students who were having tough times at home. When I came in to volunteer, I saw your loving strategy for each one of them. and I marveled at it.

Thank you, Meredith Attar, for giving Loretta what she calls “My best year ever.” She loves math because of you, she stops and breathes because of you, she loves you totally and sweetly.

Thank you, JoLynda Chronister, Shelly McKay, and Sylvia Furman, for your hard work in the office and the way you hold everything together, even on the hardest of days.

Thank you, Denisa Anderson, for instilling in my children a deep curiosity, a love of reading, and the warm, loving presence that radiates from your library out to the rest of the school.

Thank you, Russ and Mary Nuckolls, Penny Wills, Debbie Vasquez, Chris Wermus and Rhonda Shaffer for your patience, smarts, and joy in all the ins and outs of the day. Whenever I see any of you, I feel like things are going to be okay. I know the students feel that way times ten.

And thank you to everyone else who works in that building, serving food, cleaning classrooms, monitoring recess, teaching reading, administering discipline, unwrapping popsicles, answering phones, meeting with parents, sending home permission slips, wiping tears, applying bandaids, and giving so much every single day. There really aren’t any breaks in your world, and I want you to know that I see you. And my children are better for it. And we are all better for it. Thank you, bless you. May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be happy, may you live with ease. The MK family will miss you.

Fifth Grade Graduation (for Loretta)

I like to soapbox
about how motherhood
isn’t my all-in-all,
how our children need to see us
loving the world, and please
don’t buy me a plaque
that exalts this journey.

I take it all back.
I am nothing
without this 11-year old, her jog-a-thons
and art projects, her popsicle-stained hands
and choir performances and endless
personal-size yogurts.

There’s no meaning apart from
her little loads of laundry
or the list she’s posted
under the bathroom light switch—
“Morning and evening routine—
wash feet if necessary.”

And everything will be lost
when she doesn’t play
Ode to Joy on her recorder,
when she doesn’t need a ride
to volleyball practice,
when the big graduations come
and I buy every motherhood plaque
I can find, finally seeing myself
the way she always has.