Ellen Fay Award Winners Jodi and Barrie McDougall. Photo: Ted Olinger, KP News

Jodi McDougall, who taught fourth grade at Evergreen Elementary School for 17 years, received the Peninsula School District’s Ellen Fay Award for outstanding service at the March 8 school board meeting. She shared the award with her husband, Barrie McDougall, a third-grade teacher at Purdy Elementary School for his own contribution to educational excellence.

The Ellen Fay Award is named after the district’s longtime human resources administrator. Upon her retirement, the district created the award in her honor to be given to any district employee who, in the opinion of their colleagues, goes “above and beyond” what is expected, according to PSD Superintendent Rob Manahan.

“Ellen Fay gave a lot of herself to this district, to students, to staff, and just made a difference in changing the world and creating miracles,” Manahan said. “We have a couple of individuals with us tonight who have done the same thing.”

Evergreen third-grade teacher Therese Souers, herself a 2015 Ellen Fay Award recipient, presented the award to Jodi.

“There are always people on every teaching staff to whom others look for inspiration and guidance,” she said. “Jodi’s passion for doing what is best for students brings clarity and inspiration to others. Her term, ‘getting muddy,’ is a phrase that was frequently used to describe hard but meaningful work.”

“I don’t have to say anything, do I?” Jodi said after receiving the award.

But she did. “Many of you know the medical journey I’ve been on and that I have to retire early. This is a nice acknowledgment of what I’ve done and what I believe in, but it’s also kind of a kick in the pants to do something meaningful as I move forward. So, thank you.”

Nearly eight years ago, Jodi was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Later she was diagnosed with a pre-leukemia condition of the bone marrow called myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS; left untreated, it was likely to develop into acute leukemia. Forced to retire from teaching at Evergreen in October 2016, she underwent successful stem cell transplant surgery in January 2017, which she said cured the disease.

With her immune system severely weakened after the surgery, Jodi spent four long months recuperating at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. She used Facetime to stay connected with Barrie and other family, and to continue developing her relationship with her young grandchildren.

After telling Purdy Elementary School Principal Dina Rivera all about their Facetime experience, according to Barrie, Rivera asked, “Why couldn’t she do that in the classroom?”

“That’s where the idea really started; from there we took it and ran with it,” Jodi said. She typically spends 40 minutes a day tutoring her husband’s third-grade math students using Facetime.

“The kids treat me as if I’m right there with them,” she said. “I don’t know how comfortable parent or community volunteers might be as tutors on the screen, but it comes naturally to me. I still have that teacher voice and the kids really respond to it.”.

“Now that I have decided I agree with my doctors––that I shouldn’t be back in teaching––I need to find where to put my passion,” Jodi said. “I haven’t really dealt with that yet, how to intentionally and purposefully fill my time in the next stage of my journey.”

“Even with being at home, she’s still finding a way to impact kids’ lives,” Manahan said at the award ceremony. “Not only is that a great opportunity to stay connected, but it’s also a great, innovative practice and role model for others in our district to use their talents, expertise and passion for kids and continue that work, and I am very appreciative of that and thankful to both of you for being so creative.”

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