08-08-13: District honors Peer Support Inspirational Award winner
08-08-13: District honors Peer Support Inspirational Award winner

He is described as a cheerleader of students, a master event planner, and a staunch supporter of fellow educators.

 

While he only teaches at two schools, Greg Farias’ contributions to education extend throughout the district.

 

Farias, a P.E. teacher at Edgerton and Brouillet elementary schools, is credited with coordinating one of the first major multicultural celebrations in the district six years ago at Edgerton Elementary.

 

Since then, word of the event’s success has spread. This past year, nearly half of the district’s 21 elementary schools hosted daylong multicultural celebrations.

 

Farias offers his support at all of the schools, whether it’s sharing event planning tips or coordinating appearances by outside groups so that more than one school can benefit from a dance, guest speaker, or other cultural performance.Image

 

Last year, for example, Farias secured an $1,800 grant from The Puyallup Tribe of Indians Charity Trust Board to help pay for Native American cultural events at six of the district’s elementary schools, including a first-ever celebration of that magnitude at Brouillet Elementary.

 

Farias is passionate about the importance of teaching students about their heritage.

 

“By understanding ourselves and where we come from, we can better understand, respect, and help others,” he said.

 

Inspirational Award winner

 

Last spring, the district’s Peer Support Network recognized Farias for his efforts by presenting him with the Seventh Annual Peer Support Network Inspirational Award.

 

The Peer Support Network was formed 11 years ago to provide opportunities for district employees to share experiences and promote the district’s diversity and multicultural education efforts.

 

Staff districtwide were eligible to be nominated by their building administrators for the award, which was presented to Farias in a surprise announcement in May during one of his regularly scheduled P.E. classes at Brouillet Elementary.

 

The Puyallup School Board also honored Farias at its June 10 meeting with an engraved plaque and a standing ovation.

 

Those submitting nominations were asked to consider individuals who demonstrated outstanding cultural contributions to a school or the district, and dedication to promoting diversity events beyond their responsibility.

 

“Greg not only demonstrates each of these characteristics, but exemplifies them,” said Amy Eveskcige, chief academic officer of Regional Learning Community #3. “He truly inspires us all to give our best every day.”

 

Farias has been an active member of the district’s Diversity Committee for the past seven years, facilitates the Edgerton Elementary School Diversity Committee, helps with the Brouillet Elementary diversity team, and has participated over the years with the district’s Peer Support Network.

 

His commitment to make every student and each of their family members feel welcome at school is reflected in his daily work as a P.E. teacher. Farias also welcomes school and community members at the cultural celebrations, which have highlighted countries ranging from Africa to China and cultures ranging from Polynesian to Native American.

 

“This community is becoming much more diverse,” said Farias, whose background includes Portuguese, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Hawaiian, and Spanish. “These cultural events help our kids to be proud of their heritage.”

 

Helping other schools

 

Karshner Elementary is one of six schools that benefitted from Farias’ work a year ago to secure a grant to help pay for Native American cultural celebrations.

 

“On more than one occasion Greg has come to help us with our own diversity day celebration even though he has no working or professional obligations; he is simply there to support us,” said Karshner Elementary Principal Arturo Gonzalez. “He is a model of what it means to lead by example.”Image

 

Farias has developed numerous partnerships with area business owners who willingly donate time, food, or other contributions for the multicultural events.

 

“If you are driven to do what’s best for kids, no one will tell you no,” Farias said with a big smile.

 

School cultural celebrations have featured entertainment at school assemblies, art projects, guest speakers, classroom research projects, slideshows, cultural music, and themed books in libraries.

 

“Greg does nothing small and utilizes community members to contribute to our celebrations in order to make them memorable and meaningful for the students,” said Steve Leifsen, principal last year at Edgerton Elementary School.

 

Leifsen continued, “Most importantly, all of these events are put on with respect and sensitivity. Greg takes great care and pride in the fact that these events avoid stereotypes and clichés, and rather celebrate all aspects of the culture that make it special and unique. Students at Edgerton leave with a broader global perspective on culture as a result of the work that Greg puts in each year.”

 

Jeannine Medvedich, assistant principal last year at Edgerton Elementary, said Farias goes out of his way to teach others the value of other cultures – both in his daily role as a teacher, as well as during the annual cultural celebrations.

 

“He finds ways to teach and rally students about other cultures, teaches understanding and acceptance of our differences, shows us how to celebrate those differences, and teaches us all how valuable it is to look outside of our neighborhood and recognize that there is an entire world full of amazing people with richness to share and lessons to learn,” she said.

 

In addition to his work with cultural celebrations, Farias has spearheaded the annual food drive at Edgerton Elementary, organized field day at Brouillet Elementary, helped with a new community garden at Edgerton Elementary, and helped for several years with the school district’s annual Elementary Track Meet and Marge Salmon Math Relay at Sparks Stadium. He also served on the lead planning team for the opening of Edgerton Elementary in fall 2007.

 

His passion for community service, both in schools and in the community, contributed to Communities In Schools of Puyallup naming him “Educator Citizen of the Year” in 2012.

 

Aloha and Mahalo

 

Farias was born in Hawaii and raised by his grandparents. One of his favorite activities, he said, is to teach kindergartners in his P.E. class how to dance the hula. He also teaches them Hawaiian words such as “kumu” (teacher), “mahalo” (thank you), and “aloha” (a greeting, farewell, and way of life for Hawaiians).

 

“I will be walking through the halls, and all the kindergartners will be yelling “Aloha!” he said. “They love it, and they remember it years later.”

 

When Farias turned 18-years-old, he left his homeland to play baseball at St. Martin’s College in Washington state, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in education.

 

After college, Farias returned to Hawaii to help with a family business and then moved back to Washington in 1980. He ran a family business here until he was hired as a P.E. teacher in 1995.

 

Farias is married, and two of his three children teach and coach in the Puyallup School District. He also has seven grandchildren, all of whom attend district schools.

 

“Greg has truly been an inspiration to all of us,” said Chief Equity and Achievement Officer Gerald Denman. “He is so humble about how he goes about his work and offers help to others without expectation of anything in return. He gives more to others that he would ever expect for himself and I guess that’s what makes Greg Farias the person he is.”

 

Denman continued, “There is a quote from Maya Angelo that I feel speaks specifically to who Greg is: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”