Vancouver teacher named region’s Teacher of the Year

Photo of Kendra Yamamoto

Vancouver Public Schools preschool teacher Kendra Yamamoto has been named Educational Service District 112 region Teacher of the Year. Yamamoto is one of nine finalists from around the state for the Washington State Teacher of the Year Award.

Yamamoto has worked for Vancouver Public Schools since 1998 and currently teaches preschool at Martin Luther King Elementary, a position she has held for the past nine years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Northwest Christian University and a master’s degree in education from Lesley University.

“At the age of five, I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” writes Yamamoto in her application letter. She practiced “teaching” her sister and neighbors in her family’s living room. “As an elementary student, I made notes of what worked in my classrooms (Mrs. Counts looping to first grade, compliment cards in Mrs. Copley’s third grade, Mr. Lofton’s jeopardy quizzes) and remembered what did not (names on the board for misbehaving, feeling singled out by race, lining up by height). I lived and breathed school. It was my dream to be a teacher. I had no doubt that I would fulfill that dream.”

In addition to serving as a preschool teacher, Yamamoto works in all 21 of VPS’s elementary schools as a mentor for new kindergarten teachers. She is also a member of VPS’s Early Learning Task Force and the coordinator of an award-winning summer program, Jump Start, for incoming kindergarten students. In 2016, the program served 1,055 students.

“My greatest professional accomplishments and contributions have been driven by student and family needs, specifically in the areas of home language and early learning,” says Yamamoto. As a first-year teacher, she discovered that many students spoke Spanish or Russian. Wanting to engage with students and families, she signed up for beginning classes in both languages. She also obtained an English Language Learner endorsement. Yamamoto brings cultural awareness and studies in her classroom, inviting students to share cultural traditions, dress, language and food as part of an “Explore the World” unit of study. Upon learning that many students did not have books at home, she secured grants to create a library where families could check out books in several languages.

In 2008 Yamamoto opened Vancouver Public Schools’ first preschool program to help prepare students for school. When the program reached capacity, Yamamoto sought solutions to reach even more young learners. In order to serve students on the waiting list for preschool, she applied for a grant to offer an evening preschool program at Martin Luther King Elementary with learning activities and dinner for children and families.

“Our first child had Ms. Yamamoto in 2009,” write parents Melissa and Scott Edwards. “We were very impressed with her even from the first time we met her. We could tell she loved her job. She has an excitement about her that radiates to those around her and especially to her students. She prepared him for kindergarten academically and socially in a way that allowed him to thrive in that environment.”

“She is a magical teacher,” writes Tamara Shoup, director of family engagement and Family-Community Resource Centers for VPS. “I cannot think of many occasions in my life that I have been swept away with curiosity. In Ms. Yamamoto’s evening preschool class, I felt like a learner. The children I sat with during circle time were eager to participate too. Ms. Yamamoto inspires children and adults. She is a rock star educator!”

“Working with, informing, and connecting with others in the community makes me a stronger teacher, which then directly impacts my students,” said Yamamoto. “The power of a connected community is limitless.”

Yamamoto will join other nominees from Washington at the state Teacher of the Year Award Ceremony this fall. One teacher will be selected to represent Washington state in the National Teacher of the Year Program.