JUNE 2, 1997
by Deborah Stone
The 1997 Washington Award for Excellence in Education recipients include public school teachers, principals, administrators, school boards, and classified personnel who are recognized for their leadership, contributions, and commitment to education.
"These educators exemplify the effective work being accomplished in our school districts," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Terry Bergeson. "They are dedicated to improving student learning."
In the Northshore School District, Jon VandeMoortel has been chosen to receive the Christa McAuliffe Award for excellence in teaching. VandeMoortel, originally from Illinois, has been at Northshore Junior High for six years as a language arts teacher. He also heads up the Service Learning Program which he began five years ago.
In that program, eighth graders at Northshore visit nearby Woodmoor Elementary daily to tutor selected children and assist the classroom teachers. "The impetus for the program came from my own positive experiences helping kids at the Opportunity Center when I was growing up," says VandeMoortel. "Volunteer work can be so meaningful and very rewarding at any age, but in early adolescence, it provides kids the chance to turn outward and not focus on themselves so much," he adds.
The eighth graders who sign up for the program attend training where they study how people learn, and are shown techniques to use to facilitate learning. They also role-play various situations and are given a how-to guide for future helpers compiled by past tutors. Students are expected to keep a journal of their feelings and observations and meet with VandeMoortel to discuss their experiences.
According to VandeMoortel, the responses from his students have been overwhelmingly favorable. He has seen much growth and learning occur, as well as an increased appreciation of teachers in general. "Woodmoor's staff has been so supportive and accommodating, and the eighth graders have been received so well," VandeMoortel said.
The Service Learning Program is only part of the reason for VandeMoortel's recognition. As a teacher, he gets his students involved in real world applications and works with them as true collaborators in decision-making, assessment, and all other factors of the class. He emphasizes learning through positive risk-taking and creates an environment that's comfortable and yet challenging.
"I try and show kids respect and make the environment rich with possibilities. I say 'yes' to them and get them to take ownership of their learning. Kids know they'll be looked at as a whole person in my class," says VandeMoortel.
Northshore Junior High principal Bill Killien says, "The kids believe in him and are inspired by him. They call him 'Mr. V.' and follow him all around. He's like a pied piper."
Receiving the award surprised VandeMoortel and he is flattered and honored by the recognition, but he is quick to point out that there are so many deserving people, not only in his building, but elsewhere in the district. "I am so fortunate to be surrounded by supportive professionals who have been great mentors for me. It is important to recognize that teaching is a community-oriented profession and we all work together to give the kids the best," VandeMoortel said.