Welches couple doubles down on elementary education
Originally from opposite sides of the country, Dan and Ashleigh Winans found a home and each other in the halls of Welches Elementary almost 20 years ago.
Dan has taught second grade at Welches since 1998, while Ashleigh has specialized in music education for all grades since she started at the school in 1997.
"I looked at various positions in the Portland area," Ashleigh explains. "I kind of fell in love with the mountain and the community and I've been here ever since."
For Ashleigh, who was born in Pennsylvania and went to college at Indiana University, the Pacific Northwest was new territory, but for Dan, an Oregon native, Welches was a way to more fully immerse himself in the greenery the state has to offer.
Dan is originally from Hood River and his first teaching job in The Dalles didn't land him very far from home.
"I kind of just missed the trees," he says. "I applied for this job to be back in the woods."
As enticing as the outdoor office of his family business was to Dan, he initially decided to become a teacher for stability.
"I grew up in a logging family, and logging jobs were growing more scarce, so I was looking for something that was less likely to go away."
Both Ashleigh and Dan had experience working with children before making it their lifelong profession. Now they not only teach some of the same students in the same school, but they have three children who also attend Welches.
"We got married and just kind of made Welches our home school," Ashleigh says. "I feel like in a lot of ways it's a family here. Literally for us — our family is all here every day. I think its unique and has a lot of benefits too. It's unique — it's not an experience that all kids get to have."
Dan also sees advantages of a two-educator family with all children in one school.
"Being in the system, you know what's expected of kids as they go through," he explains. "We have good access."
Besides the perks of being just down the hall from their children's teachers, the couple also appreciates the opportunities they have to collaborate with each other and with colleagues. The Winans are both on the planning committee for the Right Brain Initiative program at the school.
"The staff, we just work well together," Ashleigh says. "Whenever there's a music event, a concert here, I feel the support of all of the staff."
Both Ashleigh and Dan have also worked to get their students learning outside of the classroom: Ashleigh through her encouragement of private lessons and practice, and Dan through literally taking his students outdoors.
"It's kind of fun to see them in a different environment than the classroom," Dan says. "One of my favorite things in the past has been outdoor school."
From time to time, he also takes his class out on the hiking trails behind the school to "explore different aspects of our local environment, looking at water and trees."
In the classroom, Dan has also encouraged creative learning, through curriculum-related art projects such as paper mache creations for Chinese New Year and collaborative quilts that depict local flora and fauna. Through both of the Winans' appreciation of art, they've taught this passion to not only their students, but also their children.
"I always felt like having exposure to ... different kinds of art is good for kids," Dan says. "It makes the curriculum richer."