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Meet SOWA Board Member John Cassleman

by School's Out Washington | | Posted under School's Out News

John CasslemanWith a Board of Directors passionate about improving opportunities for Washington’s youth, we wanted to share with all of you what inspires and drives our Board of Directors to volunteer and serve as advocates and spokespeople on behalf of SOWA’s mission.

This month, we’re introducing you to John Cassleman, a former high school teacher in the “remote rural” city of Bridgeport, Washington who recently relocated to Olympia. His past teaching experience includes English, History, and Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID), as well as a “College in the Classroom” English course in partnership with Wenatchee Valley College. While at Bridgeport, he served as the head coach of the school’s first cross country team and as an assistant track and field coach in the spring. John loves to eat pie, read books, and go on adventures with his wife Shanell and their daughter Aster. Take a moment to get to know John and what brought him to SOWA.

What inspired you to join the Board at SOWA?

SOWA offered me an opportunity to make an impact in the education of our youth on a statewide level. I had to take advantage. I also felt that I could offer SOWA my perspective as an educator who works with school-age students in rural Washington. And then, on a personal level, it has always been my desire to help deepen the connection between eastern Washington and western Washington.

As a teacher, why do you believe our work is so important when it comes to supporting youth?

Youth need as many places, formats, and settings to learn as possible. They need to find something that works for them. School, in the traditional sense, is not enough. Students need ownership of their learning and something they can call their own. That said, it’s not enough just to have programs available. In order to be successful and safe for our youth, those programs must meet certain quality standards.

Can you give us some of your perspective coming from a rural community?  What are some of the biggest challenges, and how do afterschool and summer help address needs?

The biggest challenges in rural districts are challenges of access and opportunity. For example, computer models tend to be older, connection speeds are slower. People don’t go to see plays, or have community centers. Compounding this, transportation is especially difficult, especially with afterschool programs. Variety is another challenge.  People (educators, usually) are already wearing many hats just to provide the basics for their students – engaging lessons, clubs, sports, afterschool tutoring – and don’t have time or the expertise to run additional programs. In rural communities, too, many families sustain themselves through agricultural work. That makes for long days, especially in the summer. Unfortunately, that is the time children need the most support.

I say all this without much pessimism. Last year the Bridgeport High School Senior Class put on a Haunted House for Halloween. It was as if every child in the city was there. Rural communities come together when opportunities are provided. Programs like Feed Your Brain give people a reason to participate.

How have you grown in your professional and personal life since joining the Board?

I have furthered my knowledge about the power of afterschool and summer programming, for one.

Working with well-organized, knowledgeable, and passionate people has also helped me improve my ability to approach problems holistically. As a board member, I am also a spokesperson for a cause and so I must address a variety of audiences in a way that is commensurate with their own wants and needs.

Any fun memories from afterschool or summer programs you can share with us?

One memory that stands out is from a summer camp call Palouse Pioneer Day Camp. At this camp we identified flora and fauna, created crafts from gathered materials and we made skits. One year, our groups’ skit involved teasing the other groups’ counselors. For one of the jokes, they picked me to grab hold of a counselors two braids and make a crack about water-skiing. I don’t remember the specifics of the joke or the punch line, so it can’t have been that good. What I do remember, however, is the feeling of empowerment by being the center of attention and the feeling of joy at being allowed to be silly.

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