WCCDA Narrative Series | 10
Vietnam by Unsplash
I am a teacher at Cascade Middle School in White Center. I was born and raised in the White Center community. I am immensely proud of White Center. The community has really changed a lot since growing up here. I know community changes, but it is not a change that looks like me. There is an acceptance of change. There is an allyship from people moving in. But I wonder, is the community here pushing for safety and beautifying or is it the people coming in and bringing money into White Center?
As an adult, I want to live and establish a home in White Center. But right now, White Center is inaccessible to me. Unlike my parents, to buy property and build wealth here may not be something I can do. My parents are first-generation immigrants from Vietnam. They met at Chief South. When they first met, they were living in the old Seola Garden area. After graduating and getting married, they bought their first home near Roxbury and 11th, at the edge of West Seattle and White Center.
I grew up attending Seattle Public Schools. In high school, I went to West Seattle and then transferred to Nova while my brother went to Evergreen High School. My brother intentionally chose EHS because of his friends. He knew there was a difference between the students from White Center and Seattle. But I had not realized it yet. In my first year of high school, I struggled at West Seattle. I felt like I didn’t belong, so I transferred to Nova, an alternative school. Nova had a very social justice aspect to it. So there, I felt the conversations we had were more meaningful. Nova was also where I participated in FEEST, an organization that trains youth to build collective power and organize for transformative and systemic change in their schools. The mentor I had at FEEST was so attentive. They gave me so much ownership of our work. It felt like power. It felt important. I knew then that I wanted to work with youth.
White Center by Atomic Aerials
West Seattle by Visit Seattle
Seola Gardens by King County Housing Authority
After high school, I attended Evergreen State College for my bachelor's in science. I hated my science journey. I was not a part of the community. I felt alienated. The track I was on was dominated by white males. I was the first person in my family to go to college. So that experience was new to me. The program was competitive in a way that made success a challenge. But I love science, so I was able to stick through it and completed the program. While at Evergreen, I participated in a program, volunteering and learning alongside incarcerated youth at the Green Hill Academic School. Some of the youth there were from White Center. This experience required us to take a hard look at life’s paths, and this is where I realized everything leads back to school. I thought then that it was worth it to work in education.
At Seattle University, where I was doing my master's in teaching, I still had imposter syndrome. It was challenging at a different level, but I was in a community of teachers that were more accepting and supporting. Also, I had a friend at SU who helped me see that I deserved to be in that space. He worked at the White Center CDA, and though he was not a part of the same program I was in, he gave me reassurance. Since then, my 2 overarching goals for work became 1) to work with youth 2) to create a learning community that is inviting, challenging, and creative. I want to create a space that I did not always have, a space for students to feel they belong and are supported.
I have been teaching for 5 years now. I used to work in Federal Way, but I have always wanted to work in White Center. So, when there was an opening at Cascade, I immediately jumped ship. I have been working at Cascade Middle School now for 2 years. I love working at Cascade. I love it when parents tell me they also went to Cascade because that means they have lived in the community long enough to send their kids to the same school. When parents or older siblings have gone to the same school and have had the same teachers, there is so much pride and respect they have for their school and teachers. For me, if I had taught an older sibling, there is an immediate level of familiarity and trust from my students and their family. The outcome of an educator investing time and years in the community is immeasurable. As a teacher, asking “how is your sibling doing” or “how is your mom doing” is simple but so powerful. Families that trust the school also respond differently to getting help. I see that in White Center. I see the strong relationship families have with the schools and their community. I see leaders at Cascade leaning on leaders in the community and at White Center CDA for feedback and blessing to move forward with certain decisions.
Education by Unsplash
Currently, I feel satisfied with my work. I have accomplished multiple levels of success. But I am also hungry to accomplish more in the hours I have because I know I have the capacity to do more. And I feel that students and families in White Center deserve more. One of my goals of working at CMS is to bring White Center to CMS. Through place-based learning, students leave the classroom and learn science that already exists in the community. They can work alongside the community by asking what the community needs are. I have been able to do this, but it is also an area where I want to prioritize and grow more, especially now that I have been part of the education system and have the background knowledge to know when to push back and when to be flexible.
Next year, I will be taking a year off from teaching to travel around Southeast Asia. I want to step back intentionally to center myself as an educator and to think about how I can be most effective in my work. I am not exactly sure what my work will look like when I return, but I feel like I am a bridge to multiple communities. Whether it be a bridge between higher education to middle school or Cascade to White enter, I want to continue to be in spaces to connect communities and resources.
End of Narrative