2021 Promise Award Recipients Celebrated

A Message from the Department of Communications and Community Relations 
Bellingham Public Schools recently surprised our 2021 Promise Award recipients and we are pleased to announce the honorees from our schools. The Promise Awards program recognizes the exemplary achievements and contributions of staff and volunteers connected to The Bellingham Promise, our district’s strategic plan. The Promise Awards are supported by the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation.

Above and Beyond Service Award

Chesed ReyesChesed Reyes, English language learners paraeducator at Squalicum High School

Chesed helps students feel welcome, valued and important. Students love him because he finds ways to connect that are meaningful to them. Chesed started a ping pong club at Squalicum and since he is involved, there is sure to be laughter and good times. Underlying these joyful connections with students are his high-level skills in ELL instruction and math. He seamlessly interchanges Spanish and English, supporting students who are still gaining confidence in English while modeling pride in his culture and heritage. Families benefit from Chesed’s undaunting commitment as well. By creating bridges of understanding and information for families who do not speak English, he goes “above and beyond” to reach and support families. And there are many extraordinary examples of Chesed going above and beyond in support of students. Many of those examples result in those students deciding to stay in school. For one student who faces barriers like homelessness and a chronic medical condition, Chesed was this student’s “greatest advocate and biggest cheerleader” who has “given him hope in the face of hopelessness.” Everyone deserves to have a mentor and advocate like Chesed.

Above and Beyond Service Award honorable mention:
Gladys Serrano, administrative assistant at Alderwood Elementary School: “Her commitment to the Alderwood students and families reflects a service mindset without bounds, and it’s an ethic that carries equitable access at the heart of every interaction. This starts with how she approaches the typical duties of an administrative assistant but includes the many, many extra ways that she calls, delivers, invites, connects and lifts up our Alderwood families.”

Collaboration Award

Colin CushmanColin Cushman, activities and athletics coordinator at Sehome High School

Colin is a true collaborator and is always working with others and promoting effective partnerships. He is a leader among fellow athletic coordinators and also throughout the conference and state. Colin constantly works to support all students, families and staff. He is someone who cares deeply about people, wants to see them improve and grow, and is invested in each person. Colin collaborated with coaches to ensure everyone was aware of all of the safety protocols and reminded coaches of the importance of relationships and connection this season. Colin also works closely with students in our ASB to make their ideas and visions come to life. He started school-wide weekly video announcements to keep everyone informed and connected. He has facilitated learning for these students around leadership and self-improvement, enabling them to take these skills and influence their peers. Athletics is an important piece of Colin’s job, but he is also committed to creating opportunities for all students to engage in activities and clubs. He created new systems for students to connect and be involved.

Collaboration Award honorable mention:
AVID Team at Bellingham High School (Kati Berreth, Forrest Donnellan, Jessica Ortega-Mendez): “Our BHS team works tirelessly to teach our students the collaboration and organizational skills for school success. Under their stewardship, the program enrollment over the last three years has tripled. In addition to the student skills, the warm and caring environment established by these three instructors continue to create community with students during the most challenging teaching year ever.”

Community Partner of the Year Award

The Friends of the Family Resource Center and district staffFriends of the FRC (Anne Calico, Laura Corker, Linda Feltham, Carmen Gilmore, Grace Munson, Kate Wearn and Alina Zollfrank)

This amazing group of women call themselves, “The Friends of the FRC.” They have been instrumental in helping to meet the needs and fill resource gaps of our families. They originally set out to provide the Family Resource Center with a consistent year-round supply of personal care items; they took on scheduling presentations with PTAs and local groups to do resource drives. Since their involvement, the shelves of the FRC have never been empty. They have been able to consistently provide basic of personal care items that families often can’t afford. The “Friends” organize resource drives, help to receive the products, sort and shelve all the items. This small group of parents and community members were not only inspired to fulfill the FRC’s needs but they also use their connections in the community to help motivate others to give as well. Their work has expanded as they continue to look for gaps in meeting needs – a quick phone call to the “Friends” always results in immediate action and their assistance has expanded to clothing, emergency food, transportation, and so much more. An FRC staff member says, “In the midst of the COVID challenges, we honestly would not have been able to provide, organize, and distribute the level of personal care items, food and needed gift cards this past year without their countless hours of help and generous hearts.” The tireless and heartfelt work of these women truly is The Bellingham Promise in action recognizing that the whole child is important and loved – they are unsung heroes in our community.

Community Partner of the Year Award honorable mention:
VAMOS Outdoors Project at Cordata Elementary School: “During our partnership, we saw student’s perception of learning shift due to being involved in new activities. Our students are excited to access recreational activities that are not always readily available due to various obstacles (language, transportation, social/economic status). Vamos has helped our students see that being bilingual is a strength and celebrate their identity. We see the whole child being supported through our partnership.”

Compassion and Service Award

We have an elementary and secondary recipient this year.

Nelly SchonbornNelly Schonborn, Spanish teacher and ELL specialist at Birchwood Elementary School

Nelly radiates The Bellingham Promise and is a pillar of the Birchwood community.  Her oversight and care for all of our families goes far beyond her work-day and job description.  Nelly is the first person Spanish-speaking families reach out to. Nelly partners with teachers to interpret phone calls, meetings and translate documents. She helps Birchwood staff establish trusting relationships with students and families. Throughout the pandemic Nelly could be found on patios and paths helping families navigate technology, problem-solving hardware and explaining how to access and post on SeeSaw. Because of Nelly, Birchwood events often have more Spanish-speaking parents than English. She understands the challenges of being an English language learner and uses this to leverage support of students and families. Nelly’s love for students and their success fills a room.


Steve WileySteve Wiley, counselor at Squalicum High School

Steve is a “superhero” according to his colleagues. Steve believes at his core that the whole child is important, should be loved and we should never give up on our kids. He treats every student as a unique and special individual, and they feel his love. It is not unusual to see Steve supporting students around grade issues, a family stress, a family celebration, a family tragedy or basic needs. Nothing is too small or too big for Steve. Described as the “heartbeat of Squalicum,” there are many, many heart-filled stories of Steve’s compassion and service. Steve works to eliminate barriers and is the first to offer to deliver anything needed to homes. It is not a rare sight to see Steve pull up with his trailer attached to his car with a bed he either purchased or found for a family in need. It is this devotion to relationships and service that shows his true character. One staff member recounted, “when I was fighting for my life with cancer, he was fighting alongside me, gathering people to help me find the strength to go on.” Steve shared recently that once he retires, he hopes to have time to volunteer meeting the needs of students and their families.

Great Teaching Award

Darin NolanDarin Nolan, physical education teacher at Bellingham High School

With over 25 years of teaching experience in health education, Darin continues to challenge himself and revise his courses to reflect new scientific information, teaching practices, student needs, and technology developments. Darin effectively uses student achievement data, as well as traditional assessment, to make intentional decisions about next steps in student learning. Always a very competent teacher, Darin continues to grow in reaching and embracing each student in his classes. In his strength and conditioning classes, Darin continues to award his “blood and guts” t-shirts to high performing students. These t-shirts and awards are coveted by the student body and worn proudly throughout the students’ time at BHS. It is one of the many ways that Darin motivates and recognizes students for their efforts and growth in their physical fitness. Within our school district, Darin is a main instructor for teacher-led professional development in health education and physical education. His expertise has also been noted at the state level, and he recently served as a member of the revision team for the newly adopted Washington state teaching standards for health. Darin is a master teacher and continues to be a true leader in his field.

Great Teaching Award honorable mention:
Aubrey Merritt, kindergarten teacher at Geneva Elementary School: “Aubrey exemplifies high quality instruction. She puts incredible intentional thought into each teaching move she makes for every student. She differentiates every activity for every student, regardless of how small or large the task or activity is. The love she holds for each student is evident in their relationships. I have not met anyone who puts as much care and thought into everything they do when compared to Aubrey.”

Outstanding Leadership Award

Jessica SankeyJessica Sankey, Executive Director of Operations

Jessica has worked tirelessly in her new role as Executive Director of Operations which began just when COVID became our new reality. As a child, Jessica dreamed of a job that would require her to multi-task — answering multiple phones while typing, drawing on a white board, helping people walking in the door. It is truly amazing the number of projects that Jessica has overseen including the Central Kitchen, the Good Food Promise, and most recently, COVID vaccinations. Even in this bigger leadership role, Jessica delivers on her core values of patience, understanding, listening and support. Known for her resolve for finding solutions, Jessica’s magnetic energy and leadership is contagious. Her colleagues say that she “reinforces our confidence to perform at a high level by promoting an environment of trust, positive communication, fairness and accountability.” She truly makes a difference each day to her staff. From transportation, to facilities to food services and the COVID safety team – all of these groups have done amazing work this year. We want to recognize Jessica as an outstanding leader and her incredible teams. With Jessica at the helm, anything is possible.

Volunteer of the Year Award

The Creando Connections volunteersCreando Connections Team at Bellingham High School (Meysha Riviere, Gillian Spilker, Noah Epps, Amelia Wermus, Ami Purdue, Michael Mosquera, Opal Barker, Stephanie Aragon)

An outstanding group of students from Bellingham High School used their passion for books and children to create an online platform that supports literacy, and intercultural connections. Creando Connections is the brainchild of Bellingham student Meysha Riviere, who missed reading to elementary school students, and who was soon joined by Gillian Spilker as a co-organizer. Since then, many others have joined including: Michael, Opal, Noah, Amelia, Ami and Stephanie, all Bellingham High students. After creating an online reading room with books in multiple languages, the group built on their success to launch an online room with technology tutorials for students and families in multiple languages. Not stopping there, they wanted to continue their work furthering cultural understanding by showcasing dances from around the world through a partnership with the BHS dance team. These students responded to the COVID crisis with innovation, compassion and service and our community is better for it.

Volunteer of the Year Award honorable mention:

Jeanie Pritchard, PTSA President at Sehome High School: “Jeanie has helped to come up with creative ways to raise money, helped to set up new systems for volunteers to help out in our building, and to look for ways to make things happen for our students. Jeanie is a creative problem-solver with a heart for service. We are so thankful for her contribution to our community.”