Brian Neill’s tenure as Jason Lee Elementary’s counselor started 10 years ago but his ties to the school go deeper than that as he attended the school as a student himself. During his high school and college years he returned each year to work with student in Jason Lee’s Camp Wooten outdoors program.
His dedication to Jason Lee has always stood out to parents, fellow educators, students and community members. Every day he is doing something to encourage students, strengthen the school’s culture and lift the community. It’s that track record that earned him Richland School District’s Crystal Apple Award for 2020.
“There never seems to be an end to the support he gives,” says Becky Popsickal, a mother of four Jason Lee students through the years.
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. The award ceremony will be at 4:30 p.m. on March 12 at ESD 123 in Pasco.
Mr. Neill’s educational career spans 16 years, starting with a brief stint in Kennewick School District before becoming a resource room teacher at Richland High School in 2004. He remained there before moving over to Jason Lee in 2010.
As a counselor, Mr. Neill supports every student through numerous initiatives. Mr. Neill’s visits to classrooms to provide social-emotional learning are always a highlight, as that could mean Puppy, Snail and Be Calm Bunny—his puppet friends—also get to visit.
He has helped students in need by obtaining clothes and putting together weekend food boxes. He connects with parents by offering them resources and encouraging their involvement at the school. He works with staff to identify struggling students and ensure they reach out to them daily. He builds relationships with the community to provide even more support to families that are struggling.
And that work has shown results. Parent involvement at the school has increased following his reach out efforts. Discipline referrals have dropped significantly at Jason Lee this year after he started an indoor recess program, giving students an option of where they can play.
“Time and again he has shown himself to be an educator who is skilled in teaching while also supporting and encouraging others. He has spent his career working to enhance the lives of others and he has shown himself to be the epitome of an exceptional educator.”
Principal Debbie Whitney
Those schoolwide commitments don’t hamper Mr. Neill’s connection to individual students. Mrs. Popsical recalls how when her father died and her then-fifth-grade son was struggling with the loss, Mr. Neill took time to meet with them both to talk through her son’s grief. She has seen him and heard numerous stories of him taking the same compassionate approach to other students. There are similar stories about what he’ll do to get kids to meet a challenge.
“I have witnessed Brian be covered in Silly String and drenched with ice water to help motivate kids to reach their goals,” says fifth-grade teacher Dan Schuster. “He is an educator who cares about kids and develops strong relationships with students, which helps them feel safe, supported and connected to our school.”