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Golden Apple Moments

Kent Teacher Denisha Saucedo Helps Students Discover Their Potential and Rise to Any Challenge

“Every day is about stepping up. Every day is about growth.”

January 5, 2018

“Keep going! Remember? No one knows if you’ve made a mistake! Okay, five, six, seven, eight …”

A Demi Lavato song blares as Denisha Saucedo’s sixth-graders find their rhythm — and confidence — as part of Kent Elementary School’s STOMP dance team. This energetic teacher coaches her dancers every day during recess and lunch periods. 

Saucedo gives another note to the dancers. 

“Now here’s the thing. If Mrs. Saucedo can lift her leg and clap underneath, you should be able to lift your leg and clap underneath.” 

Saucedo coaches students on Kent Elementary’s STOMP dance team.

Her students smile and laugh as they bend down to do the move, trying to make her proud.

When Saucedo started at Kent Elementary 14 years ago, she knew she was ready to go beyond the classroom to reach kids.

“My first year here, I started a STOMP team because I was on a drill team in middle school and it gave me leadership opportunities. So, I wanted to give our students those same opportunities,” she explains.

Opportunities for leadership and personal growth don’t stop there. She also coaches basketball, track and soccer at the school. 

“[Coaching] just gives me the opportunity to see students outside of the classroom and provide them with the same mindset — a growth mindset. It’s always academics first, but sports also provide a reason to help them be successful outside of the classroom.”

This Kent, Wash. native has had her share of challenges as a student. A child of a single-parent, single-income household, Saucedo moved around from school to school. Her education was inconsistent, with some teachers challenging her, while many did not. She believed she was capable of more and felt frustrated when teachers didn’t challenge her.

Saucedo says she teaches to help her students “see that the next level is possible.”

“I felt like it was important for my teachers to push me and not look at what they thought my home life might be like, and determine what I need. I just didn’t have that teacher who said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to push you.’”

It wasn’t until college that Saucedo’s proverbial lightbulb came on.

“I realized that I wanted to give students that ‘no excuses’ classroom. I wanted to give them what I wanted, which was the opportunity to say, ‘It doesn’t matter. I don’t care where you come from, what’s going on at home — it doesn’t matter. You’re capable of meeting high expectations. My expectation is that you come to school, set your goals and reach them, whatever they might be. ’”

Dr. Rosa Villarreal, principal at Kent Elementary, cites Saucedo’s childhood education experience as an integral factor in how Denisha motivates her students to understand that they are capable of so much more than they may realize.

That’s why I teach... So that they can say, ‘You know what? I’m amazing. My elementary teacher told me so, and you can’t hold me back!’

“Even if the students don’t believe in themselves, she has enough belief for them, for the parent, for the student, for everybody,” says Villarreal. She continues, “Denisha is able to meet every student where they are and help pull them up to the place where they need to be. She has the expertise in helping students identify and work on both social-emotional and academic needs.”

Back in Saucedo’s reading class, students are studying the literary and narrative concept of the “Hero’s Journey,” no small feat for some of her students.

“In almost 15 years of teaching, I’ve had students ranging from not being able to read at all to reading at an eighth-grade level in sixth grade. And so, having a growth mindset means I’m not done learning no matter where I’m at on that spectrum. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, Mrs. Saucedo, I can’t read this!’ I tell them, you can’t do it yet! What part of it don’t you understand? What part of it do you understand? We talk about being sure that every day, when you make mistakes, it means you’re trying.” It’s that awareness of trying their best, mistakes and all, that Saucedo wants her students to take with them.

“She has the expertise in helping students identify and work on both social-emotional and academic needs,” says Dr. Rosa Villarreal, principal at Kent Elementary.

Not having that constant support from her teachers in school, but finding it within herself — that’s Denisha Suacedo’s “Hero’s Journey.” Overcoming the odds. Surprising teachers. Challenging herself to do better. Giving back. Believing that the sky’s the limit for all of her students.

“That’s why I teach. To help them see that the next level is possible. To help build something that they can hold on to. So that they can say, “You know what? I’m amazing. My elementary teacher told me so, and you can’t hold me back!’ That’s why I teach.”


Kathy Tuohey

Veteran producer Kathy Tuohey has been working in broadcast television for over 25 years. From daily segments to documentaries, her expertise includes arts programming, human interest stories and education specials. She is managing producer of the Golden Apple Awards, produces the Pathways to Excellence education series, and is a contributor to IN Close.  This Northwest native’s natural curiosity about the people and places of our region keeps her on the lookout for the next great story.

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