In our new series, “Teacher Features,” we are spotlighting the amazing educators who have been involved with Sister Schools over the years.
Brett Heinemann works at Clyde Hill Elementary. He’s been an educator for more than 16 years and his favorite subject to teach is social studies.
Outside of work and family life, Brett likes to run—a lot! He has completed 30 marathons and ultra-marathons over the last 12 years or so. He also enjoys gardening and just being outside, especially near water.
Get the tissues ready, because here Brett tells us why Sister Schools means so much to him and his students.
To start, tell us about your school.
Clyde Hill Elementary is in Bellevue, Washington. We have about 600 students in K-5. It is a very diverse school; this year I had 26 students in my class and there were 13 different native languages other than English represented. The kids are eager to get involved with service-oriented activities and projects and love learning about other cultures.
How did you get involved with Sister Schools?
I learned about Sister Schools from a colleague who heard about my interest in helping kids both locally and in Africa, and she put me into contact with Program Director Terry McGill. It had been several years since Terry had been to Clyde Hill, so we felt it was time to bring him back and give our students the chance to learn about Uganda and the children living there, and to hold a supply drive. We did the first-year program and were about halfway through the second-year program before the COVID-19 pandemic closed our schools.
As an educator, what part of our mission and program connects with you most?
That is an easy question. By far, the most valuable and unique part of this program is the fact that our kids get a literal window into the lives of kids in Uganda, right down to seeing pictures of specific kids with the very school supplies or special items that they themselves donated. It is rare that there is an opportunity to actually see the people you are hoping to positively impact. The slideshow that Terry presented to our kids at the end of year when he arrived back from Uganda had a profound impact on kids and staff alike.
What kind of impact has Sister Schools had on your students?
Our students were very concerned about what the students in Uganda needed and wanted. They asked so many questions about what types of books they would like, what their English reading level was, what kind of art supplies or pencils they needed, if they would like these shoes, this dress… It went on and on. They were very excited to be helping someone they’d never met, with something that we usually take for granted here. Our 5th graders also wrote letters to the kids in Uganda and Terry brought back response letters when he returned. They were beautifully and carefully written, and the kids were so excited to get these notes from a place so far away.
If you could tell our partner schools in Uganda ONE THING, what would you say?
That we think about them often, to stay safe and healthy, and to keep going with their education!