BEAVERTON, Ore. — It takes a special kind of person to teach eight grade, especially during a pandemic. But Whitford Middle School’s Travis Rooke-Ley is the perfect man for the job.
“The first thing I hear from every person I talk to when I tell them I teach eighth grade, is ‘oh my gosh, bless your heart!’ I don't view it that way. Eighth graders are awesome,” Rooke-Ley said.
Rooke-Ley has been an educator for seven years and teaches eighth grade math at Whitford. He also launched the school’s online newspaper, the Whitford Times, and encourages students to write about everything from politics to entertainment.
“I have 15 incredible students who have volunteered their time to make our community and school better,” he said about the newspaper staff.
Rooke-Ley also started a peer support program at the school, pairing his students with students in special education classes.
“He presents authentic activities for them to do," said special education teacher Susan Bomber. "From there it's morphed to, he has taken personal days to join us on fieldtrips with kids that come from his class."
This is what inspired Bomber to write a letter of support for Travis for OnPoint’s contest.
“Every single kid knows who Mr. Rooke-Ley is. Every single kid wants to be where Mr. Rooke-Ley is. He makes their lives better,” said Bomber.
OnPoint agreed, and selected Rooke-Ley as the Educator of the Year for the middle school category.
KGW was there as OnPoint employees surprised Rooke-Ley with the honor, informing him that his mortgage or rent would be paid for one full year.
“This is so humbling! I just really appreciate it,” said Rooke-Ley as the surprise unfolded in his classroom.
"Travis is passionate, he's a connector, and his online newspaper really stood out in his application," said OnPoint President and CEO Rob Stuart. "And that is why Travis is our educator of the year."
This is the 12th year OnPoint has honored teachers in Oregon and Southwest Washington. There is one OnPoint Prize Educator of the Year as well as one finalist in each K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 category.
Rooke-Ley, who has lived around the world playing pro-baseball and working with Teach for America, said he is right where he belongs: at Whitford. And he credits his family, teacher’s assistants and his students and colleagues for helping him win this award.
“Although this may be an individual award, it's not. I love it at Whitford because of the people that work here, and the students that are here. I couldn't have done this without them,” he said.
Whitford Middle School will receive $2,500 as part of the honor. Finalists will also receive a $5,000 cash prize and a $1,500 donation to their schools.
About the OnPoint Prize Educator of the Year Award:
The OnPoint Prize for Excellence in Education celebrates innovative teaching methods that spark enthusiasm and passion in students, parents, and their community. Anyone—including teachers themselves—can nominate a teacher. Educator of the Year is awarded to the teachers who best meet these criteria: Creativity and Enthusiasm, Teaching Methods, Community Impact and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.