Salem-Keizer teachers travel, inspire over winter break


Salem-Keizer teachers travel, inspire over winter break

Published 4:24 p.m. PT Jan. 6, 2017 | Updated 4:04 p.m. PT Jan. 8, 2017

It took Joshua Beckett eight months to create his own Chewbacca costume out of synthetic hair and a mesh suit.

Why was he building his own Chewbacca costume, you might ask?

Beckett, an instructional assistant at Claggett Creek Middle School in Keizer, does it for fun — and for a good cause.

During the winter break, Beckett was among many Salem-Keizer School District employees who used their time to explore, inspire and give.

Using the Force

Beckett used his time off to volunteer with Star Wars Oregon, a group of Star Wars costumers dedicated to raising funds and awareness for various charitable organizations.

“I’ve loved Star Wars my whole life,” Beckett said. “As a kid, ‘The Galaxy Far Far Away’ sparked a lot of imagination and enjoyment that made up some really special memories.”

During the break, one of his Chewbacca outings required him to be at Portland International Airport at 3 a.m. to give a young girl a Star Wars “sendoff” as she boarded her flight to Disney World for some ‘Jedi training.’

Beckett originally built his costume to have fun with his daughter, Phoebe, on Halloween.

After completing it, he said he realized, “We could bring a lot of joy to the world by making appearances in it at various charity events.”

Beckett dresses up as Chewbacca, spreading joy on a weekly basis.

“Having grown men look at Chewbacca and say (out loud) that it makes them ‘feel like a kid again’ is truly a blessing,” he said. “And having small children get to experience, even if just for a moment, what it might feel like to be in the presence of a real Chewbacca is just amazing.”

Beckett’s goal for 2017 is to do 70 appearances and create thousands of smiles. And until that goal is accomplished, he plans to brighten the lives of children in his day-to-day work — costume or not.

“As a program assistant in a middle school life skills classroom, I often get to see the sides to life that aren’t real pretty, the struggles people go through,” he said.

“Nowadays … one need only turn on the TV or get on social media to see the challenges that face the world,” Beckett said. “I got tired of waiting for the world to show me that it was a good place to live in, so I go out on weekends in a Chewbacca costume and prove to myself that there is still good around us.

“It renews and refreshes me to put forth my best effort for the kids I work with each week in the school setting,” Beckett said.

Understanding through music

Rachel Kuenzi, a second-grade teacher at Englewood Elementary School, spent her break singing and helping others in the Salem area.

Every year Kuenzi and her roommate go caroling with women from her church. This year, they went door-to-door singing Christmas carols, and sang at a hospital in Portland to patients in a burn unit.

“One woman invited us in to sing Silent Night with her harp … One couple insisted on giving us a little money which we donated to charity,” she said. “One couple was very excited and said they’d lived here for 10 years and never had carolers before.”

Caroling has been a big part of Kuenzi’s life, but it wasn’t until she moved into her neighborhood that she started coordinating an annual effort.

“When I moved in the previous owner had left behind an old Englewood Caroling Book. I was fascinated,” she said. “It reminded me of the time I’d caroled in the flats of West Salem.”

“Today it’s difficult to get to know your neighbors and your neighborhood,” she said. “People don’t trust one another as easily as in the past and unfortunately I think it’s with good reason.

“(But) we left joy, smiles, and even some happy watery eyes,” she said. “Little did they know the joy their appreciation brought us.”

Kuenzi loves caroling so much, she does it with her class at school, going around to different classrooms.

“At school we do Christmas songs, Hanukkah songs, Kwanzaa songs, and we learn about these holidays, people and cultures,” she said. “It’s important to me that I teach my students how to be respectful of all people.”

Kuenzi said that respect starts with understanding other people and why they may be different from you.

“This can make us get a little out of our comfort zone sometimes,” she said. “I know getting to know the people in my neighborhood and in the community where I teach will help me be a better teacher and help me to understand the families I serve better.

“I spend a lot of time with children and we can learn so much from them,” she said. “They are quick to forgive, quick to share compliments, eager to help, and so genuine. Caroling and giving is a way I can apply what they teach me to the adult world where people aren’t as genuine anymore.”

Studying language at the source

Robert Glasgow, a Spanish teacher at South Salem High School, spent his winter break in Colombia.

“I absorbed the sights, sounds and too many calories,” he said.

Glasgow has traveled to Colombia over winter break for a few years; however, this break he traveled to new places in the South American country, including the island of San Andrés.

“San Andrés … is famous for the seven shades of the sea and its historical ties to pirates and the U.K.,” Glasgow explained. “Most of the inhabitants speak English, Spanish and Creole. As a language buff, I found the whole experience …. to be intriguing.”

Glasgow said the beauty of being in the Caribbean was “good for his soul.”

One of his favorite moments was watching dancers put on a show in the streets of San Andrés.

“It was awesome to take in their performance and to see young people forming a dedicated community with the aim of bringing each other to a higher level,” he said.

Glasgow said all of the language teachers he knows in the district strive to maintain cultural links to the language(s) they teach.

“That is always a primary goal,” he said. “Traveling allows me to refresh my personal and professional perspectives. Professionally, I can bring contemporary ideas into the classroom and cultural issues that may be of interest to my students.

“On a personal level, it is enlightening to see values and systems in other places that are working well and that may be lacking in the place you call home. (It) makes you appreciate qualities that you have taken for granted, but are noticeable when they are suddenly absent.”

Next break, he plans to travel again, but he is still searching for the perfect place.

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate and Facebook at

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: