Spokane International Academy (SIA), a charter public school in Spokane, promotes a global, values-centered education in its elementary and middle school programs. Suzet Teodoro and Tiara Pschaida, are delivering this vision with passion and fun for their scholars every day. Suzet teaches fourth grade and Tiara teaches Spanish for SIA’s third, fourth, and fifth grades. Together, they are supporting scholars beyond academics by fully integrating the school’s REACH values in their lessons and their engagement with the SIA community.
Getting started in Education
Both joined the faculty of SIA three years ago, after very different journeys. Tiara always knew that she wanted to teach and fell in love with Spanish while studying in Panama. She changed her major to Spanish, and then earned her Master’s in teaching. For Tiara, coming to SIA is like coming home. She began her teaching career in Yakima, at a Spanish immersion school which also happened to be Suzet’s elementary school. Since that time, she has taught in multiple states – from Washington to Arizona to California. But, at SIA Tiara feels like she won the lottery.
“I’ve worked in many different districts and many different states. SIA is unique,” said Tiara. “I feel like this school is very grassroots, community oriented, and really dedicated to a global education. I wish every student had the opportunity to grow up with such a global perspective.”
Suzet had planned to go into nursing and had been accepted into a program at Heritage University. Prior to entering nursing school, she participated in a community service project called Camp Seed. Here she worked with underserved kids from around the region, and in particular from the Yakima Valley Nation, in a summer school program she and her fellow college students designed. Camp S.E.E.D. (Social, Economic, and Environmental Development) taught kids academics and life skills – like financial literacy and how to use a computer. By the end of the summer, Suzet decided to switch from nursing to education.
“Hearing from those kids, and the struggles they had that kept them from bringing their best selves to school, pulled my heart in this direction,” said Suzet. “It was really nice to make the connection and build relationships with them. That’s what I bring to my classroom every day now.”
More Than Academics – Infusing Values in Learning
Suzet and Tiara both work to instill SIA’s REACH values – Respect, Enthusiasm, Achievement, Citizenship, Hard Work – into every lesson. When they see scholars demonstrating these values, they recognize and celebrate them.
“I tell my students ‘I want you to learn Spanish, but what’s more important is that you practice these REACH values as they will take you farther than anything else I can teach you,” said Tiara. “I want them to know that they can communicate with each other, be a good person and make a difference in the world – these are foundational traits that they can always rely on.”
“It’s also about practicing these values and our habits of success early and often,” adds Suzet. “Showing celebrating your achievements, citizenship, hard work – these are all life skills that kids start to understand as the get older. Because we start building them in our scholars when they are young, by the time an SIA scholar is in 8th grade they have a really good sense of demonstrating these values in the real world.”
In class, Suzet aims to build strong positive relationships and a community with her scholars. With virtual school this has been harder than usual, so Suzet put in the work to understand each of her scholars and to build their confidence to open up and share their stories with her. In part, she does this by sharing her story about growing up in Mexico and living in a bi-lingual world. Inspired by her story, one student invited Suzet to a local Greek festival in which he was performing, so that he could also share his family story and experiences with her.
“I still have these memories from that experience,” said Suzet. “We do that at SIA too. We want to give scholars experiences that will create those long-lasting memories and connect real life to what they are learning in class.”
For Tiara, teaching Spanish is more than just a language lesson. She works with scholars to understand the full value of successful communication. From the words they speak to body language, she reminds her scholars that they communicate with their presence, expressions and gestures as much as their voice. Her lessons, infused with fun activities and engaging skill building, are also lessons in building relationships and showing respect for others in class and out in the community.
Tiara recalls one scholar who was out with his parents shopping for disadvantaged families during the holidays. The scholar heard another family at the store speaking Spanish and he struck up a conversation with them.
“We instill these ideas in them to meet new people, be open minded and make new friendships,” said Tiara, “It was really meaningful that he felt comfortable using whatever Spanish he had to communicate and build those relationships in the community.”
A Collaborative Team
Suzet and Tiara also model school values through their support of one another and the positive working relationships they demonstrate across the school.
As the Spanish teacher for multiple grades, Tiara works to bring enthusiasm and joy into her lessons with every classroom. Because she works within other teachers’ classrooms, Tiara is conscious of demonstrating respect as a guest in those spaces. She is also very positive about the collegial nature of the SIA team and feels welcome when she brings her lessons to scholars.
“We have many teachers who support my lessons by bringing bi-lingual teaching into their own work – especially Suzet who is amazingly bi-lingual,” said Tiara. “I love that she introduces things in Spanish even when I’m not there. She helps continue creating connections for scholars throughout the day.”
Prior to COVID, Tiara would design projects for scholars like labeling items around the room with its Spanish word – La pizarra, el lápiz, la computadora – and so on. But when school went virtual, scholars were not getting live Spanish lessons at first. Suzet wanted to continue these live lessons for her own classroom and invited Tiara to spend time conducting live lessons each week.
“I was really passionate about this,” said Suzet. “To have kids see someone, even through Zoom, is important for their learning. Especially for scholars who are newer to SIA and may not understand when I say ‘saca tu computadora’ or ‘¿dónde está tu lápiz?’ I remember this being overwhelming for our new kiddos, but then when Tiara started doing live lessons, I saw a big turnaround.”
Eventually, all the other elementary teachers joined suit and Tiara became a fixture on scholars’ screens. Her lessons continued to engage and delight – so much so, that parents were joining in and learning along with their scholars.
SIA is building a new school space where Tiara will have her own classroom which she plans to make as welcoming to other teachers as they have made their spaces for her.
The Power of the SIA Community
With powerful values infused into lessons and practiced daily, the SIA community has remained strong through COVID and is now coming back together in person. SIA scholars may continue doing service-learning projects such as the eighth-grade trip to Costa Rica once the pandemic has passed. Suzet and Tiara are very excited about the possibilities for their scholars in the future.
“What sets SIA apart is that scholars have this vision of helping and serving others, and that can make them happy,” said Tiara. “I hope to give my students a glimpse of that and have them recognize those traits in others in school and around the globe.”
“This is a beautiful community, and there’s so much power in that,” said Suzet. “I’m excited that the school building can bring us together, it’s really powerful. But no matter where we are, our SIA values come through, and we can build community anywhere.”