The importance of Native American education in this country, and especially in Washington state, cannot be overstated.
North Thurston Public School’s Jerad Koepp has recognized this importance. For his contributions in this area, he was named the 2022 State Teacher of the Year.
Koepp has been a teacher for 16 years. For the past 8, he’s been the Native Student Program Specialist for North Thurston Public Schools.
In this role, Koepp teaches across grades and co-teaches in the district’s Native Studies program. His teachings reach approximately 230 Native American students from over 50 tribes, nations, bands, and villages in the 22-school district.
“My classroom is indoors, outdoors, in a commons or cafeteria, sometimes a library,” says Koepp. “My ‘classroom’ is wherever learning is happening.”
Helping students better understand their own Native American culture has had a lasting effect on many of them. It’s this commitment beyond the curriculum that earned him his Teacher of the Year nomination for Capitol Region ESD 113.
Ella, a current high school senior whom he first began teaching when she was a new student at Evergreen Forest Elementary, attributes much of her growth as a Native American student to his teachings.
“Growing up with his support throughout elementary school allowed me to have a place to feel comfortable in, laugh and be free,” wrote Ella. “He helped me with school supplies, and to connect me to what being Native American meant. His mentorship and friendship has been something that I will always cherish in my heart, and I know that many, many years from now I will still be in contact with him.”
Koepp’s position has also allowed him to become a liaison to the local tribes, strengthening relationships with tribal partners. He’s also provided professional services to other educators within the district, assisting them in the areas of Native education, culture, policy, and advocacy.
“With Mr. Koepp’s leadership, our collaboration with the Nisqually Tribe has grown into a significant partnership,” writes Kate Frazier, Director of Equity and Languages at North Thurston Public Schools. “Within two years, our district adopted a Land Acknowledgement, flies the Nisqually flag at every district site, and coordinates government to government consultation meetings between the Nisqually Tribal Council and our School Board.
“He is by far one of the most transformative leaders and teachers I have ever had the privilege to work with.”
“Mr. Koepp is an educator who helps Native students learn not only their classwork, but about themselves as well,” said Superintendent Chris Reykdal. “Educators who go beyond the curriculum to help students show up authentically as themselves, and broaden their understanding of their culture and heritage, are so vital in our schools.”