“When everything is going wrong, she’s the person I come to,” said Prosser senior Levantia, who has experienced several personal hardships this school year. “I know that I can come to her office anytime to talk or cry, or just to sit and find some peace.”

“She’s a bright light,” said Ms. Shimon of her student, “and even though there’s a lot going on in her life that’s trying to dim that light, she perseveres. She knows how to advocate for herself.”

Self-advocacy is a quality Sandra instills in all her students, whose adolescent development she finds fascinating.

“Teenagers believe they are the center of the universe, which is a turnoff for many adults,” she said. “I find it captivating, because it means that every experience they have is heightened, and that when I teach something they’re interested in, they’ll run with it.”

Sandra has managed to cultivate a wide range of “interests” among her students, especially those who participate in Prosser’s theater program. The school puts on a play each spring, alternating modern-themed productions with traditional Shakespeare.

“We spent a lot of time researching and looking up words we didn’t know,” said Deja, a Prosser student who played Oberon in last year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “It’s a lot of work, but Ms. Shimon gives us the time we need to understand the plays and how they relate to our lives now. Plus she’s a really exciting person, so she can make anything seem fun, including Shakespeare.”

Deja also performed in Prosser’s 2017 production of The Laramie Project – a play that tells the real-life story of the murder of Matthew Shepherd – alongside several of her classmates, including a student named Cristina. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Cristina was concerned that her Spanish-speaking parents would have no idea what was going on when they came to see her on stage. A conversation with Ms. Shimon changed all that.

“She suggested that I take the lines I felt were the most meaningful and perform them in both English and Spanish,” said Cristina. “That meant a lot to me and my family, especially in this political time when we feel like our culture is being undermined. Ms. Shimon understood that and helped me do something about it.”

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Path to the Classroom

Sandra came to education via a non-traditional route. After completing college, she began a career in her family’s medical transcription business.

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, and we all realized that eventually I would leave the business to pursue that path,” she said. “But it’s hard to tear yourself away from working with people you love.”

Still, her desire to become a high school teacher prevailed, and her subject of choice was English.

“English is the discipline where we find connections to each other,” she said. “We use stories to understand our experience and that of others, which is what I try to get across to my kids. I want them to know that what they have to say is valuable, and that how they say it matters.”

Sandra did her student teaching at Prosser, and has become an integral part of the team over the past twelve years, both as a teacher and mentor to her students and as a leader among her colleagues.

“Sandra is a great person,” said Prosser principal Mark Schall. “She is genuine, caring, humble, involved, and one of the very best teachers I have encountered in three decades as an educator.”

A “Thank You” from Teacher to Teacher

Sandra credits much of her success to the teachers of her youth, particularly a high school English teacher by the name of Mr. McBride. Always a strong student in this her favorite subject, Sandra was surprised to receive a poor grade from Mr. McBride on a piece of expository writing, especially when she had earned an “A” from him on a similar assignment earlier in the year.

Why the poor grade? Because the latter paper resembled too closely the quality of the former, establishing a lack of growth.

“He was the first person to teach me that just because you’re good at something, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to improve, or that you shouldn’t push yourself,” she said. “Only I wasn’t my best self in high school, so I didn’t react very well to his criticism at the time.”

Later, when Sandra realized that what she had received from Mr. McBride was the best kind of teaching, she tracked him down to offer a belated thank you.

“I wanted him to know how much I appreciated what he’d taught me, and that I tried to bring that same spirit of excellence to my own classroom,” she said.

Perhaps Ms. Shimon will hear similar sentiments from her student’s years from now, though from the way they talk about her, she may not have to wait that long.

“She is someone who has never turned their back on me,” said Prosser student Levantia. “No matter what she is going through in her own life, Ms. Shimon always makes time for everyone else, and gives us whatever we need to keep moving forward.”