Dedicated is a word often associated with teachers. For the Snoqualmie Valley Schools Foundation’s Classified Educator of the Year Brenna Vukovich, it’s a true description in two senses. As a para-educator to a student with cerebral palsy — “He physically can’t do anything for himself, and that’s where I come in,” — Vukovich has one student only, and he’s a student she’s devoted to.
“Last year we were at Twin Falls together…. and hopefully we’ll be together until he graduates,” she said.
Vukovich and her husband have lived in North Bend since 2004. They have two sons, a fifth grader at Opstad Elementary and a freshman at Mount Si High School — the same grade her student is in. She has been a volunteer with the school district for years and a staffer for the past three.
What brought you to education?
Vukovich held an associate’s degree in fashion merchandising and had been working as a buyer for the Bon Marche, until she started her family.
“I quit to be a full-time Mom. As my kids got older, I found I was volunteering at the schools a lot, Reading Buddies, math tutoring, and so on.
“Some of it was because my kids were there. And I like kids, they’re fun to interact with and watch them learn and think and grow. And the schools always need somebody.”
What do you like about your work?
“Every day is different,” she said. “One day I’m helping him with computer programming and Spanish class — I’ve never done that before — the next I might be lying on the floor doing wheelchair maintenance.”
She has also found that she enjoys the experience of being back in school.
“That was my joke last year, middle school is way better the second time around, and I’m still home at the end of the day when my kids come home to help them with their homework. I’m the lucky one.”
What does your student struggle with? What do you struggle with?
“He really likes computer science and he’s really good at math. He really does not like writing and language arts,” she said.
Writing in general is a challenge and even typing takes a long time but the education environment has changed since she was a student, in ways that are very helpful to students like hers.
“It’s not like it used to be,” she said. “Everyone has a computer so they can work in a small group and look at everyone’s Google Docs…. It’s much more collaborative than I remember school being.”
It is still school though, and when her honors student — “He’s in Honors Biology right now. I’m not, because he has that class before I get there,” — started geometry this year, she thought of her first time learning geometry, and got worried.
“I was very nervous about geometry this year… and I’m very pleased that I have an A right now in the class!”
Vukovich takes her student outside the classroom often to administer tests and quizzes, since he must answer verbally, and also to work with him one-on-one on subjects, while the rest of the class is working independently.
“I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do that with him in geometry,” she said, but this time, “it’s been easy for me.
How would you describe an educator of the year — what qualities would they have?
“There are teachers, you know if they won the lottery, they would go to work tomorrow. They are the ones who know they have the best job in the world. They love kids and care about kids. And you can tell the difference.”
What have you learned from your student?
“We both learn something new every day. That’s kind of our joke — what did we learn today?”