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Belief in children rewarded
Belief in children rewarded

JACKIE COOKE BS '81, MA '92, is proof that the American Dream is still alive and kicking, at least in western Oregon.

Cooke was named 2006-07 Oregon Teacher of the Year. The award, sponsored by Intel Oregon, comes with a $3,000 cash prize and a trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the National Teacher of the Year forum and meet both the Secretary of Education and President George Bush.

"My grandfather was an Italian immigrant," says the 50-year-old Cooke, who teaches at West Gresham Elementary School. "In Italy he was an olive picker. He came here in the early 1900s for a better life. Education was a really big deal to him."

Cooke's father passed that value on to his own five children, who became the first generation in the family to graduate from college, all with degrees in education.

Currently teaching first grade half time, Cooke is also co-editor of the Oregon Math Teacher Journal, the professional publication of the Oregon Council of Teachers in Mathematics. She leads mathematics workshops for teachers throughout the state, teaches continuing education courses at local colleges, and has participated in a national outreach program for rural teachers.

In addition to her expertise in math, Cooke also loves to read and write and regularly shares her children's stories with her students. She initially thought she'd teach middle school English. Once she got in the classroom, however, she became fascinated by what makes kids tick, and switched to elementary education.

In her 25 years of working with children, Cooke says that she has seen several trends emerge. One is that more and more kids are coming to school without any preschool experience to prepare them. Another is the increasing difficulty parents have finding time to volunteer at their children's schools. "In most families, both parents have to work, if there are two parents. We have a lot of single-parent families," Cooke says.

Cooke, however, describes herself as an optimist. "I have a lot of faith in human beings, and especially in children."

By Anne Laufe