Thursday, May 23, 2024

Jennifer Graybeal, renowned elementary teacher, retires in 2024

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LEAVENWORTH - In less than an hour, teacher Jennifer Graybeal guides a class of kindergarteners through five math activities in a way that engages each child where they’re at, encourages effort and acknowledges success. Starting with a math “sprint” and quickly scribbled answers, to a group “guess the math rule” game, to stations where pairs roll dice or complete numeric puzzles, Graybeal gets these six-year-olds counting. They’re working their way steadily toward year-end standards, step by step.

Graybeal is in her final year of a 35-year teaching career in Cascade School District, and her experience shows in her smoothly run classroom of wriggling little bodies. Her authentic relationship with each student is apparent. When students are asked to come to their carpet squares, she says, “Thank you for being a good leader” to those who modeled responsive behavior. When one child tried to turn in a paper with no name, she gently teases, “Did you write in invisible ink? I can’t see your name.”

Teaching for so long means Graybeal is very connected in the Upper Valley. “When I started teaching, I was one of only two kindergarten teachers mostly,” she said. “[Close to] half the students in the district went through my classroom for about ten years. As a new teacher, what a fun way to join the community and get to know so many wonderful families. It has been a privilege teaching kids, watching them grow up, and now often teaching their children.”

Graybeal spent the majority of her career at Osborn Elementary, teaching kindergarten and first grade there before the elementary schools were reconfigured, then teaching fourth and third grade before returning to her “roots” in kindergarten at Peshastin Dryden Elementary in 2016.

“In 2020, I joined Tina Richardson in a teaching partnership,” Graybeal said. “We currently share two full time positions: a kindergarten classroom and the K-2 Title I reading and math Intervention Specialist.”

“When Jennifer came to this shared position, the intervention program heavily focused on reading support,” explained Richardson. “Through shared collaboration, the program has been able to expand to offer math as well. Jennifer has been integral to this expansion by bringing innovative ideas to the table. She always strives to create systems that benefit students and staff in the pursuit of student growth.”

The intervention program is data driven; so much so that changes in intervention can occur based upon assessments done earlier that day. It is adaptable, allowing for students to come and go based upon their current needs, and it has a track record of success with improving standardized test scores for PD students. 

Graybeal grew up in Cashmere, and teaching in a small school district seemed the natural choice, even with a commute from Wenatchee.  “I chose to bring my children ‘up valley’ beginning in preschool until becoming Cascade grads. A small school district fosters opportunities to develop rapport, relationships, programs, and systems. I think with quality leadership and collaboration, the possibilities are endless.”

Graybeal has made an impact on colleagues in addition to students. One such colleague is Tracy Krous. Their paths first crossed in the 90’s. “I was hired as a half-time kindergarten teacher, and Jen was my mentor. There are so many things that college doesn't prepare you for. She helped me navigate five-year-olds being in school all day for the first time, kids crying under tables, and the workload. My first year was successful in part due to her guidance.”

Their paths crossed again several years later as part of the third-grade team. “Those were some of my best years of teaching,” said Krous. “We were able to team teach with her doing the English Language Arts portion of the day, and I did the math and science. It was a fabulous partnership.”

“Jennifer's experience teaching many different grades has given her a unique and valuable vertical perspective of the learning spectrum of elementary-aged students in our district,” said Richardson. “She knows the foundations that need to be built in order to support future learning.”

Graybeal demonstrates the values that she holds dear when it comes to teaching. She shared, “It requires honesty, integrity, patience, and perseverance with a ‘kids first’ advocacy. Teaching requires a lot of energy, organization, and forward thinking, as well as a solid work ethic while maintaining a positive attitude.”

Her retirement is well earned, but she added, “Retiring is kind of bittersweet. I have been a part of this CSD family most of my life. There is much I will miss with student and staff connections, but so much to look forward to at the same time.” Graybeal is referring, in part, to more time with her three young grandchildren. 

Graybeal has proven she’s good at adapting to new phases of her teaching and now this post-teaching phase. “One thing I do understand is that as difficult as change is, it’s important to always keep moving forward!”

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