This season, with the raising of the 12 Flag, we continue to honor and celebrate the members of our community who are helping make a positive difference for others during the challenging circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The impacts of the pandemic have been felt far and wide, and schooling has been no exception. Many classrooms still sit empty as teachers and students across the country have had to make difficult transitions to virtual learning, and kids of all ages have had to miss out on priceless experiences like school dances, graduation and commencement ceremonies, or even just playing with friends at recess.
But even with things going virtual, the show must go on. In September, the Seahawks teamed up with Microsoft and state officials to help provide technology and other resources to students in need as they returned to school. That same month, the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) named its 2021 Washington State Teacher of the Year, Brooke Brown, and 2020 Washington State Classified School Employee of the Year, Melito Ramirez. OSPI also announced regional winners for the Teacher of the Year and Classified School Employee of the Year awards.
For Week 13, we've chosen Brown and Ramirez to be the honorary 12 Flag raisers on behalf of all Washington state teachers and school employees continuing to make a difference during these times.
Brown is currently in her 15th year as an English and Ethnic Studies teacher at Washington High School in Tacoma. She teaches seniors at the school, and admits that seeing her students miss out on hallmark experiences like prom and graduation has been difficult.
"It was really hard on a lot of our students, as you can imagine," Brown said. "We read this great article that talked about how so many of them were experiencing grief, just not knowing what was going to happen, the loss of those expectations that they had been looking forward to. So it's been hard."
Now teaching from her living room, Brown says that her students' "resilience, courage, and grace" help give her strength to get through it all.
"I call my eight-year-old my coworker, because she's behind me in most shots," Brown said. "We're just making the best of it. Some days are harder than others, and I think grief is the best way to describe because on any given day, one kid is having big feelings — and that might be me one day — and so just really trying to learn how to not only treat each other with grace, but extend that same grace to ourselves."
Brown is also a powerful voice when it comes to equity in education — she serves on the district's equity team, and represents students on the school's Foundation team, which is tasked with addressing gaps in racial opportunity through restorative justice practices and discipline procedures.
"The work is important to me because it's how I live my life, it's how I want my children and students to [live]," Brown said. "And that's to show up with love. One of the things I think we really have to focus on is how can we learn how to love ourselves? And part of that, like in my ethnic studies class, is about how do we connect with our roots? How do we connect with where we're from?
"From that, really understanding where we come from and who we are, developing that love of ourselves, and then that's how we can extend love and care to one another."
For Brown and her students and colleagues, a big focus during the pandemic has been on a seemingly simple but surprisingly effective idea — finding the positives of everyday life.
"My goal is always, how can we find joy?" Brown said. "In the midst of everything that's happening, in the midst of so many things outside of our control, how can we stop and find joy? … So that's how we start off most of our classes. What inspired you this weekend? And I always tell my students, 'You sharing your joy brings me joy.'"
Brown says that winning state Teacher of the Year came as a surprise because she knows so many other great teachers.
"Truly, there are so many phenomenal teachers," Brown said. "All of my kids have great teachers. My colleagues — I mean, any one of my colleagues could've won Teacher of the Year, they're incredible. I think teachers do so much everyday for our kids, and in the midst of the pandemic, they're doing even more. Parents are becoming teachers. We're all in this situation together."
This week, a 12 Flag raising was held at Washington High School where Brown was able to hoist the banner up. "It's incredible, it's a humbling experience," Brown said. "I'm just Brooke, I'm just a teacher, I'm just a mom and a wife. It's just an incredible experience.
"It's really special for my students to get to see something like the 12 Flag flying at their school, just to acknowledge them and their hard work and everything that they do. This award for me, it's not me — it's my colleagues, it's my mentors, it's everyone that's poured into me, but really it's my students."
Melito Ramirez works as an intervention specialist at Walla Walla High School. The son of a migrant family, he has more than 40 years of experience working with migrant students, building relationships with their families, and providing these students bridges to education and resources where they otherwise may not have existed. Today his role partly consists of connecting with students and families to check in and make sure kids are present and not experiencing any barriers to their success in digital learning.
For Ramirez, the changes to routine operations due to COVID came as a shock. "Kids were used to walking into my office anytime they wanted," Ramirez said. "I have several students that need to see someone. They need to see me, I need to talk to them before they hit their first period class to get them pumped, get them going, and now they don't have that.
"So now I'm doing that via Zoom. I connect with them once a week, and they're letting me know what's going on, what they need to do. Most of the time, it's just, 'I just needed to hear your voice.'"
Some of the students that Ramirez works with come from low-income families, and the effects of the pandemic in these homes are that much more prevalent when it also happens to be where you go to school.
"There's four or five kids in a family, they're all logged in doing work in a tiny little apartment, it's loud, it's noisy, they're worried about food, they're worried about, 'Okay, are we going to get kicked out?'" Ramirez said. "They're going through survival mode. Homework is the last thing on their mind." He says that the district provided students with laptops and wifi hotspot devices in partnership with Spectrum, bringing internet service to homes that didn't have it before until at least the end of the school year.
Like Brown, Ramirez is happy to win the award, but feels like he has colleagues that would've been just as deserving, if not more.
"It's really, really cool, but there's other people that I see that are more deserving than I am," he said. "They've been here for a long, long time and they've never gotten recognized for anything they do. Those are the quiet people in the background.
"But I'm very proud of what I've done, and I'm very happy with the connection that I've built in this community."
Growing up in Texas, Ramirez was a Cowboys fan during the Roger Staubach years, but he quickly adopted Seahawks fandom upon moving to the Northwest.
"I started finding out about the Seahawks, all their history, their stats, all this stuff, and I was like, 'Okay, these guys are the underdogs. That's what I'm going to do,'" Ramirez said. "All my kids are Seahawks fans. My grandkids call me up, and they're all with the lines on their faces and they've got the 'Go Hawks!'"
A 12 Flag was mailed to Ramirez this week for him to raise at Walla Walla High School. "It's like a dream come true, really," he said of the honor. "I never thought I would do that. Only ex-football players, movie stars, very important people or famous people. And here I am in Walla Walla, raising the flag. I'm super excited about it."
For their commitment to inspiring and helping students grow in spite of the ongoing pandemic, Washington State Educators were selected as the honorary 12 Flag raiser for Week 13 vs. the New York Giants. To celebrate, the Seahawks raised 12 Flags at the schools of 2021 Washington State Teacher of the Year, Brooke Brown, and 2020 Washington State Classified School Employee of the Year, Melito Ramirez.