The room hushed as Daniel Martin struggled to get his words out.
The 19-year-old Shadle Park High School student had just handed a bouquet of yellow daisies to his teacher, Midge Rigsby-Eldredge.
He tried once, stopped, started again. His hands moved delicately over the words, signs flashing as he pointed and crossed his arms and made sentences.
“The flowers are for you,” Martin signed. “We love you. Thank you for all you do.”
The occasion was a surprise party for Rigsby celebrating the Washington Award for Excellence in Education she recently received.
Rigsby’s students, co-workers, colleagues and mother showed up last week in a classroom decorated with yellow and green balloons and streamers. They presented Rigsby with cards, hugs and a videotape with memories of Rigsby.
“This award is for all of you,” Rigsby told the students. “You guys make our job awesome and excellent.”
Rigsby, now 34, was a junior at Rogers High School when she fell in love with teaching students with special needs. She started working at Bryant School that year and was hired as a classroom assistant after she graduated high school.
She helped start a program to train the students to work in the community. She attended Gonzaga University and continued working at Bryant for most of the time she was in college.
Rigsby graduated from Gonzaga in December 1985, and has been at Shadle Park almost ever since.
“She’s a wonderful teacher,” said Emmett Arndt, vice principal at Shadle Park. “She’s just gifted with children. She has such high expectations for them, how students can have a full life. She’s a terrific teacher.”
Rigsby teaches the students about personal space and accountability. She helps integrate them into real jobs in the community, at places such as Tidyman’s, Ernst and Lamonts.
Ask her students what they think of her, and they’ll smile big and raise their hands to talk. They think she’s nice, helpful and even funny. They’ll talk about working as a team and treating others with respect.
“In my opinion, she’s the best teacher I’ve ever had, from the kindergarten up,” said Christine Clark, 18.
“She helps me with the problems I have,” said Trish Marshall, 19.
“Ms. Rigsby is nice, and sometimes she’s funny, once in a while,” said Casey Holliday, 15.
What more of an endorsement could Rigsby ask for?
They love her sense of humor, her forthrightness and her long blond hair. She wore it in a braid and wispy side curls on the day of her surprise party.
Rigsby got another surprise last week. She had no idea that the state’s excellence award carried money with it - $2,500, which must be used for educational purposes.
Rigsby traveled to Olympia and received the award in a special ceremony last Thursday. About 45 teachers statewide are honored every year. She won one of two awards given this year to Spokane teachers.
“I can always see her up to her elbows in what she’s doing,” said Jim Olson, who team-teaches with Rigsby. “She’s a real fun-loving person and has a real zest for life.”
Midway students enjoy Olympia
About 26 students from Midway Elementary turned aluminum cans, newspapers, books and pasta into T-shirts and a trip to Olympia this month.
It wasn’t a bizarre magic trick. Instead, the students in Sandy Amend’s fourth/fifth-grade combination class used persistence and pluck to raise about $4,000.
They gathered aluminum cans from neighborhoods. They recycled newspapers. They collected pledges for minutes they read books. They sold novelty pasta.
The fund-raising started in late January. The field trip to the state capital happened May 10-12.
The students, 16 parents and Amend stayed at the Black Lake Bible Camp in Olympia, a summer Christian camp that offers educational programs the rest of the year.
“They didn’t like the food at camp,” Amend said. “It was camp food, like meat and mashed potatoes.”
They liked Winddrifter, a storyteller who dressed as a mountain man. They learned to shoot air rifles and make candles.
In Olympia, they loved going to the capital, where they showed off their T-shirts made special for the trip, Amend said. Each green shirt featured the capital building on the front and the student’s name with a mountain scene and a bus on the back.
“Everything was wonderful,” Amend said. “Our bus driver was awesome. The tour guides were fantastic.”
A moo-ving cause
It’s not exactly blind luck. It’s more like a crapshoot.
Trinity Catholic School, run by St. Anthony’s Parish, is having its fifth annual “cow plop” benefit Saturday.
For those not familiar with the idea, here goes: Two cows are turned loose on the school field at 2301 W. Montgomery.
The field is divided into a grid, and for a $3 ticket folks have a shot at winning $1,000. If one of the bovines does its business in the square bearing your ticket number, you’re the winner.
“It’s better odds than the dog track,” said the Rev. John Donnelly, pastor of St. Anthony’s.
The mess, though, is probably quite a bit bigger.
Despite the big pay-off, the benefit is successful for the school, too. The event raised $8,000 last year, Donnelly said.
The fund-raiser starts at 1 p.m. with a barbecue and other family activities lasting until 5 p.m. The cows make their debut at 2 p.m. For more information, call the school at 327-9369.
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MEMO: Education Notebook is a regular feature of the North Side Voice. If you have news about an interesting program or activity at a North Side school or about the achievements of North Side students, teachers or school staff, please let us know. Write: Education Notebook, North Side Voice, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210. Call: 459-5533. Fax: 459-5482.