It’s no wonder why Glacier Peak’s Caraballo is teacher of the year
Doug Ramsay photo
In this photo taken in June, Glacier Peak biology teacher Tami Caraballo (in lab coat) helps students Tristan Diers (left) and Jacob Beck dissect a frog for their final project of the school year.
SNOHOMISH — Tami Caraballo was named this year’s 2020 Regional Teacher of the Year by the Northwest Educational Service District 189.
For the past 10 years out of 26 working for the Snohomish School District, Caraballo has worked as a science and biotech teacher at Glacier Peak High School. There, she has challenged thousands of students to strive for a better tomorrow.
In the classroom, Caraballo has been able to give students the equivalent to a professional work environment to help them succeed far beyond high school. Whether it’s Skyping with former students who are getting their Ph.Ds to help them better understand a topic, or spending her summers mingling in Seattle’s South Lake Union area advocating to people that if they are looking for interns, she has many kids with valuable skills.
While at Glacier Peak, Caraballo has been awarded multiple grants. The Snohomish Education Foundation helped her acquire two 3D printers, about a $100,000 investment.
After spending a week at a molecular-modeling workshop in Milwaukee, she knew it could revolutionize classroom teaching. With the help of the printers, students can understand from a molecular level how different diseases work.
“So, if you can understand the structure of this from a molecular level, maybe you can stop it,” Caraballo said.
Caraballo teaches by the model that she doesn’t have all the answers. Science is constantly changing, and most of the time it doesn’t work the way you want it to, explained Caraballo. “I’m really interested in good questions, not right answers. Because I don’t know the right answer on a lot of things… You need to ask ‘what did you learn?’ That’s where the process is really valuable,” Caraballo said.
A colleague, Claudia Ludwig, the Director of Systems Education Experiences at the Institute for Systems Biology describes Caraballo as a wonderful teacher and collaborator.
“If you ask most people that are around Tami, they will say she is the best teacher most people have ever worked with,” Ludwig said. She characterizes her as someone with a contagious Energizer bunny attitude that never rests on previous successes.
Her mother was an English teacher and her father was a Special Agent with the FBI. Maybe it was the combination of growing up in a household with perfect grammar and the determination to make a difference that made Caraballo who she is today.
Or maybe she was just born with it. “I’m supposed to be a teacher, it’s a calling,” Caraballo said.
Caraballo also works with Jim Olson, a pediatric oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. They’re working on Project Violate, which aims to allow neurosurgeons to only remove cancer cells during surgery and is in its third stage clinical trial. They use tiny proteins called optides that come from scorpion toxin and then they attach a fluorescent light to the molecule and when they inject it, the tumor paint only attaches to cancer cells and lights them up. So, it doesn’t cure cancer but shows where the cancer cells might lurk. It would help a neurosurgeon to remove the brain cancer and nothing else, for example.
As a result, her first-year biology students will take information she learns at the Fred Hutchinson Research Center and do in-class labs that are heavily focused on cancer biology. And, if her students have questions, she will have them email Olson and they will work on it together.
Her advanced Molecular Biology for Global Health class is assigned to feed or fuel the world. The curriculum is geared toward the United Nations’ sustainable development goals: good health and well-being, clean water, sanitation and zero hunger, just to name a few. Her students are able to do this by growing algae to try and increase lipids for fuel or protein for food. The students who take this class will also earn University of Washington Global Health credit.
For a five-year span, she would have her students make an aquaponic garden where they would grow food as an experiment and then give the food away to places such as the Snohomish and Maltby food banks.
“When kids think of global health, they say that they are going to Africa to save the world… Well there’s a world right here that needs saving,” Caraballo said.
Her vision is for each and every student to feel empowered, “I want these kids to know that they can do anything. Being successful isn’t about brilliance, it’s about persistence,” explained Caraballo, “I want them to be able to explain science to someone who has their Ph.D. just as confidently as they would to their 6-year-old brother.”
David Forsythe, Assistant Superintendent of Operations for the educational service district that awarded her, painted how Caraballo’s engagement with her students and her ability to work with other teachers is why she represents the district so well.
This summer she’ll be going to Connecticut for a week-long program called Tiny Earth. While there, she will be researching soil bacteria for antibiotics that she will then be able to bring back for her students to do as a research project.
When asked about her plans for the future, Caraballo responded, “I’m not leaving the classroom, that’s where you get all your energy from. Boring teachers aren’t good for kids, and I like my kids. I like learning new things. It’s just a passion to do it.”
Caraballo is now in the running for Washington State Teacher of the Year award, which will be given in Olympia on Sept. 13.
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