After 15 years of teaching high school math, Lesley Belden decided to go outside her comfort zone—she left the only school she’d ever taught at and became a special education teacher at Chief Joseph Middle School.
Rather than gently wading into her new role, she dived into the deep end. Ms. Belden restructured special education classes to better meet individual student needs. She immediately began partnering with fellow staff to help them engage students receiving special education services. She became the adviser for Chief Joseph’s Flight Crew, the team of seventh- and eighth-grade student leaders who mentor the schools sixth-graders.
For Ms. Belden, going all-in for students just comes naturally.
“Watching students grow their confidence in their abilities and get excited about learning is incredible,” Ms. Belden says. “Plus, watching them grow as young adults in all areas of their lives is super cool.”
It’s that tireless dedication to students paired with her ability to build strong supportive relationships to motivate and inspire them has earned Ms. Belden the 2023 Crystal Apple Award for the Richland School District.
The Crystal Apple Award is awarded to teachers in and around the Tri-Cities by Educational Service District (ESD) 123. The award honors educators who have a positive impact on the lives and futures of students. Each district may nominate one teacher to receive the award each year. Each Crystal Apple winner is also nominated for the State Teacher of the Year Award.
Lesley joined the Richland School District 17 years ago as a math teacher at Hanford High School. She strived to make the advanced math classes she taught at Hanford High School challenging as well as engaging. Applying that same standard to her math support and intervention classes just seemed like the natural thing to do.
“Her enthusiasm for learning new ways to teach concepts to students who historically struggled in math, or ‘hated’ it, was relentless and in turn helped so many students find success and build their self-esteem and confidence,” says Rachael Morgan, an assistant principal at Carmichael Middle School who previously taught with Lesley.
Part of Lesley’s talent as a teacher derives from her ability to bond with students, both as a teacher and as a coach and mentor. While at Hanford she had stints as an assistant volleyball coach, head girls fastpitch coach and as a weight room supervisor.
Despite not previously working in special education, she quickly found a groove at Chief Joseph and has worked with staff throughout the building to ensure students receiving special education services are supported and set up for success.
“I was impressed at how well she easily adapted and her ability to connect with student, staff and families has improved the overall social and academic experience,” says Principal Eric Davis.
And while she isn’t coaching any sports at Chief Joseph, she’s still very much involved in building relationships with students as the advisor to the school’s Flight Crew student leaders who mentor Chief Joseph’s sixth-graders.
“She puts so much time and energy into Flight Crew and we would be lost without her,” says student Elora Rogers. “She is always making us laugh and hyping us up. I can’t think of a better or cooler adviser.”
Ms. Belden will receive her Crystal Apple Award at the ESD 123 Professional Development Center in Pasco at 4:30 p.m. on March 9.