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'I feel blessed': Start to finish, sisters share teaching in small school

Start to finish, sisters share teaching in small school (KOMO Photo)

CARBONADO, Wash. - On the edge of this small Pierce County town sits a small brick school house built in 1929. It replaced an even smaller wooden school house, built around the time the district was founded in 1878.

To say there's history in the building might be an understatement. Since opening its doors, it's taught entire generations of families.

"It's awesome to get to know the whole population of the school," says Paula Visnaw, Carbonado's Early Kindergarten and Music teacher.

It's familiar territory for Visnaw. She and her sister, Penny Frame, both attended Carbonado as children. Eagle-eyed visitors may still spot their school paintings hanging in the hallway of the nearly 90-year-old building.

Today, both women teach at the school. Penny juggles middle school Language Arts, Drama, and 8th Grade homeroom.

"I start them and Penny finishes them," Visnaw jokes.

"The kids laugh," Frame says. "They say, 'we can't get away with anything here!' We say you don't want to. You want to thrive and be successful. And I think being part of a small community really helps them."

Together, the sisters have more than 50 years of teaching experience, most of it in tiny Carbonado, where fewer than 200 students attend through 8th grade.

"We actually have a waiting list for parents who would love to have their children attend our school," Superintendent Scott Hubbard says.

Maybe it's the smaller classes. Maybe it's just the way of life in an old mining town where families date back decades. Whatever the case, those who come to Carbonado to teach have a tendency to stay. Hubbard has been in the district for nearly three decades.

"This year is especially good," Hubbard says. "I'm going to have all my grandchildren in this school."

Visnaw echoes his sentiment.

"I've taught all my nieces and nephews," she says "It's huge to have roots that go down that deep."

And they're not alone. A number of teachers and staff members have spent more than a decade working in one of the smallest districts in the state.

"I really believe a lot of [teachers] stay here because of the relationships they've built with one another and the families in the community," says learning specialist Jessie Sprouse, who's worked with the district for 10 years.

"I feel blessed," Frame says. "This is where I'm supposed to be," adding she wouldn't leave for a bigger district, even if it meant a bigger paycheck.

"I didn't go into teaching for the money," she says. "That's not what it's for. It's to really make a difference."

School starts for Carbonado students on Aug. 29.

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