Local family carries passion through generations

The Jewells are well named. They are just that. And our community’s kids are the better for it.

In many cases, this dynamite local family of five sharing careers in teaching has been working side-by-side—literally. John Jewell, artist and retired principal; his wife, Andrea; daughter Laura Stafki; son-in-law Jeff Stafki; and Andrea’s sister, Judy Watt, occasionally have all been in the same student-filled room at the same time, some as volunteers, some on official duty, assisting one another and the kids in the learning process.

“Every day is uplifting and positive because of the children and the support of families, both ours and the families of the children we serve,” Andrea said. With John’s almost daily volunteer help and the after-school support of Jeff, who has his own set of elementary kids as a teacher at Minter Creek Elementary, Andrea and Laura have teamed up for six years teaching kindergarten at Vaughn Elementary. As if that weren’t enough, Andrea’s sister, Judy Watt, a retired teacher, shows up at assessment time to help. They are a real teaching machine.

For Andrea and John Jewell, working together started in 1966, when they did their student teaching at Whittier Elementary in Fircrest. Before student teaching was over, they were dating and in August 1966 they married.

John was born in Brainerd, Minn. “My granddad came from Norway,” he said. “My 19-year-old mom and I lived with my grandparents while my dad was overseas in World War II. When my dad was
assigned to Fort Lewis, he and mom fell in love with the Puget Sound area and we’ve been here ever since.”

John and Andrea both attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Tacoma, but never met. After John graduated, he attended the University of Puget Sound where he took his masters in education.

Andrea is a Tacoma native who, after graduating from Wilson High, also attended UPS for a bachelor’s in education. Again, though on the same campus, John and Andrea never met. They finally did while teaching at Whittier Elementary and the rest, as they say, is history.

Then, after visiting several potential schools, John went for his doctorate at the University of Northern Colorado because of its excellent special education program. The Jewells’ son, John Jr., came along in December of 1969 and daughter Laura in1972. Thereafter, Andrea was an at-home mom while their two children were small. John Jr. is now a builder and music teacher in Indianola, Wash.

His sister Laura teaches kindergarten at Vaughn Elementary. That is, she did until the following notification came from her dad: “Thought you’d like to know, Laura delivered a 6-pound, 2-ounce baby girl, Emma Jane. She’s the most …beautiful baby in the world who arrived at 12:16 a.m., March 19. The baby swam to her dad at the top of the birth tub doing the dog paddle. Both mom and Emma Jane are healthy and doing fine.”

Emma Jane’s dad, Jeff Stafki, has taught at Minter Creek Elementary for six years. Laura and Jeff were in college when they met and were married in 1994. Laura, after living and studying abroad in Italy and Martinique, planned to teach English as a Second Language at the high school or community college level. But, before entering graduate school, she volunteered in her mom’s kindergarten classroom at Vaughn Elementary. Here she fell in love with teaching young children and decided to become an elementary school teacher.

After receiving their teaching certificates from Western Washington University in1997, Jeff and Laura taught together for a year at Olympic View Elementary in Bremerton. Jeff taught music and Laura, kindergarten and first grade. The following year they happily accepted contracts to work in the community where they live. Last year, they both received their masters in science, focused on teaching literacy.

Years ago, John and Andrea bought waterfront vacation property on the Key Peninsula near her parents and moved here permanently in 1995, “because we love it out here,” they declared. John taught fifth and sixth grades, has been a special education director and an elementary school principal. He has a doctorate in education and taught part time for several universities. Andrea taught parenting classes, cooperative preschools, including one at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy, and kindergarten through third grade at Minter Creek and Vaughn.

She will retire this year after 27 years as a teacher. Her Vaughn Elementary colleagues are not looking forward to this. “She will be sorely missed,” is often heard in the school’s corridors.

John retired in 1996 after more than 30 years in education, to pursue a sculpting career. His marvelous work, the two children “Balancing the Books,” can be seen at the Key Center Library. His sculpture of a grandmother and child “Sharing” is at City Hall in University Place. He is currently sculpting an eight-foot-tall Meriwether Lewis with his dog Seaman that will be placed in Fort Lewis, which bears his name.

With Andrea’s retirement and the arrival of Emma Jane, the teaching team at Vaughn will change next year. Laura intends to teach half-time and Andrea and John plan to help care for the new baby
and have more time with their other granddaughters: Alice, 4, and Clara, 1. But, they added, “of course, we plan to continue being a part of kindergarten at Vaughn by volunteering in Laura’s classroom.”

Andrea’s and Laura’s classrooms are located next to each other, “so what’s happening in one classroom is very similar to what is happening in the other. Throughout the morning children move
back and forth,” said Andrea. “A typical day starts with early kindergarten arrivals helping prepare both classrooms for the day. The children pitch in getting name tags ready, taking chairs down from the tables, getting pencils and reading books on the tables, but mostly greeting each other with smiles and plenty of energy.” John says he “is still trying to wake up with his morning coffee, but the kids are going full steam ahead and want to read right now!” So after practicing writing their names on the board, off they go to the reading tables.

They have several parents who drop in and help the children read first thing in the morning. “It makes a huge difference for the children,” Andrea said. “Without the volunteers’ help, our students just wouldn’t make the tremendous progress they experience.”

Those dedicated volunteers include Diana Nole and Matt Mills, who help in Andrea’s room, and Erica Verfaillie, in Laura’s room, every Friday.

Several second and fifth graders come in to be reading coaches to their kindergarten buddies. While John and other volunteers gather up materials and set up tables for the next activity, you can hear the children singing songs, often accompanied by sign language, in both rooms.

The children are eager to share new words they have learned in their reading. These are written on the board. Next, they brainstorm words that rhyme with them. The children are very involved and excited to see how many words they can read in this way. They help by counting the words, saying each word slowly and telling the sounds that they hear in the words. The teacher writes them on the board, and this is what they call “kid writing.”

After reading a story, one of the children said, “This would be a good story to make a puppet show.” The other children are excited. They plan that they will make puppets after recess and put on shows.

And so it goes. The deft touch of the Jewells infusing our youngsters with a passion for learning. And even though there will be a changing of the guard, count on it, the Jewells will continue to share this passion —- if only as volunteers.

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