Skip to Content

In Person

Kathy Cowan

Kent, Washington
Special education paraeducator
Horsewoman, trail preservationist

You're in the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders. What is that?

An organization dedicated to preserving trails for future generations to enjoy. The group helps keep part of our American heritage—wagons and horses—alive.

What got you into trail preservation?

The love of the outdoors and horses; wanting to help ensure there will always be someplace for people to enjoy our beautiful state.

How long have you ridden horses?

Almost 30 years.

Favorite horse movie?

More than one—"Seabiscuit," "The Horse Whisperer," "Hidalgo," "Black Beauty," "The Black Stallion."

Favorite tunes to hum while out on the trail?

John Denver. We often sit around after a long day's ride and sing "Rocky Mountain High," "Eagles and Horses," "Ponies," and "Back Home Again."

What's the craziest thing that's happened to you on horseback?

On my very first cross-state ride I was an hour out on the trail when my new horse shied and I went flying off as if from a slingshot! I got a concussion and other minor injuries. At my demand, I rode another six hours to the end of the trail. I now advocate for riding with a helmet.

Does working with horses affect your classroom philosophy?

Yes, both take lots of patience, good communication, trust, and passion.

Why did you become an NEA member?

I joined the paraeducators union at its inception to make a difference in our profession.

Short Takes - Terry Spencer, Oklahoma, Retired

In 1995, Spencer was elected to the General Council of the Seminole Nation, his tribe's highest governing body. Since then, he's grown closer to his heritage than ever. "I'm once again learning new things about our history, and hearing and speaking the Seminole language, which I rarely had the chance to do [before]." In his 29 years of teaching high school, he sponsored the Native American Club. Because of his teaching experience, his tribe tapped him last year to head a committee to explore more effective ways to integrate Native American culture and history into school curricula. "It's a great way to spend retirement."


David Ely

Hinesburg, Vermont
High school science teacher
Biologist, globally conscious world traveler

You take students on treks to Costa Rica. What do you hope they learn on the trips?

I want them to experience a very different culture and provide community service, like reforestation.

What's the coolest thing you've done on a trip?

Swimming with leatherback turtles last year. Years ago, I went to Costa Rica to help protect their nesting sites.

On a trip to Kenya you gave a school run by women disowned by their tribe a cow. Did you pick the cow?

No, a nice Vermont Holstein wouldn't do well in that heat! Our naturalist guide picked out the cow. Three other teachers also provided funds so we increased their herd to seven.

Any tips for traveling with young people?

Set high expectations and remind them they're ambassadors. Teach them that the group's experience trumps the individual's.

Why did you become an NEA member?

I'm a dedicated professional and Vermont-NEA and NEA represent and advocate for my profession.

We Want You!

Want to see your story on this page? We're looking for members with unique hobbies or interesting ways of passing their time. Drop us a line about your pursuits outside the classroom at And don't forget to visit  to vote in September's poll: What's best about being back?

Published in:

Published In