Spotlight – Q & A
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Bellingham, WA.
What did you do this summer? I got married to Brian Norvaisis. The wedding planning took two years, so I was ready.
What high school did you attend? I went to Sehome High School in Bellingham, class of 1999.
Did you always plan to be a teacher? No. My parents were both teachers, my Dad was a coach too. Growing up I liked working with kids and animals.
What sort of animals do you like? I started training dogs and llamas in high school. Our next-door neighbor got me involved training and showing llamas.
Why llamas? My sister got a horse, so I thought I would be different and work with llamas.
What are llamas like? A llama is like a big cat – they tolerate you. A llama’s fur is soft; they are curious animals and fun to work with. Llamas are skittish; I enjoyed the challenge of getting the animals to trust me.
What did you do after high school graduation? I was passionate about doing something I enjoyed and that was my thought process. I wasn’t excited about heading off to college, so I moved to New Jersey to train llamas.
How did you get to New Jersey? The son of the person I worked for was transporting animals back across the county so I rode with him and got to see the country. We started on Orcas Island and travelled through to New Jersey.
What did you train the llamas to do? Functionally, llamas are pack animals. People use llamas to carry all their stuff when they go hiking. Llamas don’t beat up the trails as much as horses do and can travel to areas horses cannot.
How do you train a llama? Since llamas are skittish, you have to expose them to different environments. We trained llamas to walk over bridges, walk through kiddie pools, just things to get the animal to trust you.
Did you show llamas too? Yes, it’s much like showing dogs. You get the llama to stand still and walk around presenting itself to the judges.
What did you learn? I learned the more I worked at training, the better I got.
What was life like on the farm in New Jersey? I lived on the owner’s farm, cleaning the barn, doing chores and working with the animals, this lasted through the summer. After about six months, I flew home and enrolled at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham.
Did you work while attending Whatcom Community College? Yes, I worked at the Bellisfair Mall making sandwiches at the Great American Turkey Company.
How long did you attend Whatcom CC? After a year at Whatcom Community College, my friends and I decided to move to Seattle and enroll at Shoreline Community College.
How is Seattle different from Bellingham? I was “struck” by the racial disparity and poverty. My Dad worked with homeless people and I started seeing a world I had been sheltered from and became very passionate about helping.
What was your favorite class in college? My favorite class was sociology. I looked at focusing on American Ethnic studies, but I liked sociology and working with people.
What school did you attend afterwards? I got my transfer degree from Shoreline CC and enrolled at the University of Washington, where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology.
Did you work while attending UW? I worked at a youth homeless shelter and at a needle exchange. I was driven by the idea that people don’t choose to turn to drugs. I started thinking, maybe I wanted to be a teacher. I went to an information session for Teach for America and figured teaching is what I wanted to do.
Where did Teach for America send you? I taught in Quitman County, Mississippi, in the town of Lambert. I taught kindergarten for five years in Lambert. The Teach for America commitment is two years, but I enjoyed it, so I stayed longer.
Is Mississippi different from the Northwest? In Mississippi, corporal punishment happens in some schools, so that was difficult for me. The veteran teachers were supportive and helped me get through the first year. I fell in love with my students, the community and the Delta area. It is a community of trust.
When did you come back? After 5 years in Lambert, some of my friends had left and principals changed and I was finishing my master’s degree from the University of Mississippi in Instruction, so I looked for another opportunity. I ended up taking a job at a charter school in Arkansas.
What was the charter school in Arkansas like? The school was brand new and I was excited to be involved with a more rigorous curriculum. I taught at the charter school for two years.
What were some of the challenges you faced in Arkansas? I felt very connected to the kids who’s “heart hurt”, but as their teacher, the focus is to move them academically.
My heart broke when I couldn’t help some kids, so I started looking into school counseling programs. In turned out Western Washington University had a great program, so I went home to Bellingham.
What did you do after graduating from WWU? After graduating with a Master’s Degree from Western Washington University I worked the graveyard shift at an adolescent center for drug addicted young women. From there I got a job at Columbia Valley Gardens Elementary.
What do like about your job at CVG? The kids are my biggest joy. Being able to see the best in the kids, even the most challenging ones.
How long have you worked at CVG? This is my fifth year at CVG.
What makes for a good school counselor? Having a big heart for kids. As a school counselor, you can get bogged down trying to help everyone, so I use data to help me.
What types of data do you use? For elementary kids discipline and attendance are red flags. Some of the data is qualitative like talking with teachers about which students are struggling. The national board has been an amazing process to help me look at data and how I am performing.
Does your experience as a teacher help you in the role of counselor? Most definitely. I believe preventative education of social emotional skills is by far the most important thing. Teaching kid’s specific ways to handle their emotions at an early age is important.
Are kids able to learn social emotional skills? Yes, kids are so resilient and awesome, once taught they can manage their emotions on their own.
Do community issues effect school? The social problems in the community are causing a lot of stress to families. The divisiveness of the times can cause people not to see the best in each other and that effects kids. It’s critical we teach our kids that values and character are important.
What are the kids of today like? The kids of today have so much joy and so many gifts that we miss due to other stresses. The kids need love and support as much as they can get.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy watching kids discover what works for them. In addition, it’s amazing watching our talented teachers connect with kids and form relationships.