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Highline Public Schools
15675 Ambaum Blvd. SW Burien, WA 98166

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Highline Public Schools
15675 Ambaum Blvd. SW Burien, WA 98166

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Staff Voice: Keeping a Focus on Health & Safety

Staff Voice: Keeping a Focus on Health & Safety

Highline educators and staff are again navigating uncharted territory as we begin the new school year. With schools open for in-person, full-time learning, the buzz of students we once took for granted has filled our schools once again.

But there are still many challenges facing staff as we get through the pandemic together. 

We checked in with 12 staff members from across our schools to see how they feel about being back to school in person and how they are managing health and safety. These are their stories. 

Victoria Terry, Tyee High School, Co-Principal 

Tyee Co-Principal Victoria Terry greets a student at school.

“When I visit classrooms, I see my teachers teaching with passion and students engaged and happy. That is so exciting for me. I tell my families, from one parent to another, we have a team here at Tyee doing everything in our power to keep students safe. The best part of my day is interacting with students. I love seeing how happy they are to be here at school. Students being here in-person at school is what’s best for their mental health.” 

Julia Ratliff, Shorewood Elementary School, Teacher

Teacher Julia Ratliff leads a group of students.

“It feels great to be back in-person learning with students. I can tell the students really missed those one-on-one interactions that they have with staff and their peers. My kindergarteners are so excited to socialize! We are working really hard with staff and students in the building to keep everyone safe and healthy. I use a lot of positive reinforcement with my students to encourage proper mask-wearing and social distancing. We have also worked really hard to completely change our classrooms around to help set up a safer environment for students to do their best learning in.”

Owen Sallee, Highline High School, Counselor

Owen Sallee walking into Highline High School

“I was nervous in the run-up to the start of school, given that the pandemic is far from over, but the degree of care that our admin team, staff and students are taking to mask and distance is really encouraging. This year I’ve found myself taking more care to greet students by name and to express to them that I’m glad they’re at school and that they’re appreciated. The sense that we’re all moving through this challenge together and are here to support each other is really strong.”

Dr. Millicent Borishade, Cedarhurst, Principal

Dr. Millicent Borishade helps a student during class.

“I’ve enjoyed seeing our Cedarhurst scholars, our Cedarhurst families, our Dream Team and welcoming new families into our school community. In order for me to keep health and safety a priority, I lead by example by wearing my mask every day, meet our scholars as they arrive to give them a mask if they need one, remind everyone of the importance of frequent hand-washing.”

Mia Mlekarov, Maritime High School, Teacher 

Mia Mlekarov greets Maritime High School students on the first day of school.

“It is such a relief to be back to in-person learning, full-time. I know this is what’s healthiest for kids, and it’s where I feel most fulfilled and effective as a teacher. It’s awesome to see how our students take masking seriously and understand how this action can keep us all safe and together in person. I appreciate that we are really putting social-emotional wellness and community-building at the forefront this year, not just because we are founding a new school, but because it’s what our students desperately need right now.”

Chrissy Ryckman, Shorewood Elementary School, Paraeducator 

Chrissy Ryckman organizes student's backpacks.

“It has been concerning as COVID rates rise, however I know many people have tried very hard to get our staff and students back in the buildings.  I am grateful for the leaders on the safety team who try to think of everything. I continue to mask up and wash my hands frequently. Getting the vaccine gives me hope that should I contract COVID I will survive.” 

Norma Barrineau, Tyee High School, Assistant Principal

Norma Barrineau works with students during class.

“I am here for the kids and they love being back and seeing their friends. These kids are like family and it’s been really hard for them to not be with each other. They do a great job wearing their masks. I haven’t had a single incident this year where I’ve encountered a student not wanting to wear a mask. Many of our students live in multigenerational families. The students don’t want to bring COVID home to grandparents and other family members so they are very careful. Plus, they want to keep the school open so they can keep coming in person.” 

Mimi Reed, Cedarhurst Elementary School, Teacher 

Teacher Mimi Reeds reads to students.

“I am thrilled to be back in person, and so are my kids. They have been starved for social, in-person interactions. They are so excited to be able to play with friends at recess and interact directly with me and their other teachers. I prioritize health and safety by keeping the windows open whenever possible, teaching and reminding kids about wearing their masks properly and consistently, spacing their workspace three feet apart whenever possible and washing and sanitizing their hands frequently.”

Nikhil Joshi, Raisbeck Aviation High School, Teacher

Nikhil Joshi leads a class.

“It was about ten minutes before class [on the first day of school] and I was walking through the halls to check my mailbox. The halls were full of students talking, laughing, shouting. Kids were saying hi to me. It was that normal high-school sound that I didn’t realize I had missed. It gave me chills and it felt really good being back.”

Rasema Aljic, Cedarhurst Elementary School, Librarian

Rasema Aljic helps a student pick out a book at the library

“I am very happy to be back to in-person learning full-time this fall. I have joy when I see the excitement on students' faces when they walk into their classrooms. I really enjoy being able to help students to explore the library and choose books of interest to them. While online reading has increased during remote learning, students show that physical books are still preferred over electronic reading. I rearranged the furniture in the library to support physical distancing as much as three feet between students. For movement control, I taped colored dot-spots to the floor as a guide for students when they enter and exit the library and browse books."

Maria Rojas, Seahurst Elementary School, Family Engagement Representative

Maria Rojas greets people at the Seahurst office.

“I am thrilled to be back to in-person learning full-time. I missed the students and their families. I am always wearing my mask, washing my hands, and maintaining a safe distance while still being close to our students. The students are the heart of the school and being able to share in their excitement is what keeps me working at Seahurst. Their energy level is high, and students are ready to learn. It's going to be a great year!” 

Andreas Haugen, Cedarhurst Elementary School, Teacher 

Andreas Haugen helps a student during class.

“It is incredible to see students having fun being around each other. I missed them. I am slowing down, breathing, and prioritizing community building and joy.”