OCEAN PARK — After spending the past 33 years as a teacher, Miki Frace is ready to retire.
The longtime educator spent most of her career teaching at Ocean Park Elementary, and officially retired at the end of the 2018-19 school year.
“It’s a lovely, wonderful job. It’s a really hard job,” Frace said. “As my dear friend Julie Briggs said, it’s a noble profession. I’m grateful that I got to be part of it.”
Growing up in OPE
“I had a dear friend who told me that I would get sand between my toes and grow roots into the beach. I did that,” Frace said.
Frace moved to the Peninsula when her daughter Dorothy was seven months old.
Frace expected she and Dorothy would stay in the area for a couple years before moving on to another job. Dorothy eventually graduated from Ilwaco High School, and now works in Astoria.
“My daughter grew up in Ocean Beach and Ocean Park School. So did I,” Frace said. “I grew to be as best a teacher I could possibly be.”
When Frace and her daughter arrived to the Peninsula, her daughter hadn’t started crawling yet. Before she knew it, Dorothy was learning to ride bikes and other toys in the school’s halls.
“She crawled down the hall of Ocean Park. She rode her little tyke scooter riding toy, her tricycle. She rode her bicycle on training wheels, then without,” Frace said. “Before they tore the old school down, she got her roller skates and skated up and down the hall.”
Frace met many of her friends from working at Ocean Park. Many of them outlast her husband but none of them outlast Dorothy, since she has seven months ahead of them all, Frace said.
“This Peninsula and the school district helped raise my daughter. I’m very grateful for that,” Frace said.
“The best part of the job is I get to work with little people that are very amazing,” Frace said. “Even when they’re being naughty, they make me giggle most of the time. They’re pretty cool people to spend your life with.”
Frace was originally hired to teach kindergarten. During her career, she also taught first, second and third grade. She often taught what she calls “blends,” which are classroom mixes of students in different grades.
“We call it a multi-grade classroom,” Frace said. “The word ‘split’ does not pass my lips because it’s divisive. ‘Blend’ is inclusive.”
Blends are great because some students get to act as experts and help the younger students, Frace said.
“You’re not the only teacher in the room,” Frace said.
One of Frace’s main career focuses has been improving student reading. One of her career highlights was watching kids go from not being able to write a full sentence to writing a full-page story, Frace said.
Lacie DeWitt, was Frace’s student between first and third grade. She also was a childhood friend of Dorothy’s.
“[Frace] dialed in on student strengths and was able to help them utilize their weaknesses. She saw kids as leaders rather than bossy or sassy,” DeWitt said. “She’d take you under her wing and next thing you knew you were her classroom assistant.”
Frace has watched decades of students improve their writing and reading skills. She’s created lessons for a national website, done a teacher exchange in New Zealand, and mentored other teachers. She also served on a state reading committee, and traveled around the state to help teachers improve their English language and literary teaching skills.
“It makes me sit back on my haunches and think ‘Wow, look what these kids can do,’” Frace said. “All I have to do is give them the right ingredients and get out of their way.”
A community affair
“I really believe that every parent sends you their most precious thing. I get to spend time with their most precious item in the world. I don’t take that honor lightly,” Frace said. “I’ve been very lucky with my parents’ support.”
Frace has many second generation students, which has given her a variety of funny stories. This year, for example, Frace’s students read an ABC book about fire safety. The book was created years ago by another class of Frace’s.
“One of the pages had been authored by the father of one of my students this year. I sent that book home with her to take to her family because it had her daddy’s work as a first grader in it, and she’s a first grader,” Frace said. “His page was z, ‘Zack is the fire chief’s dog’s name.’”
Frace’s impact on the community goes beyond her classroom. With the help of community members, she’s taken children on field trips all over the Peninsula and beyond.
“We are so very fortunate to have the public transit system that we have. I can take my class anywhere on the Peninsula for $20,” Frace said. “I feel like it’s super important to get kids out of the school and into their community so I try to do that as much as possible.”
One field trip that stands out to Frace is when all the students at OPE were taken to the Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle. Many of the students hadn’t been on that long of a trip.
“Going to Seattle was a jaw-dropping experience for them,” Frace said. “They were so excited to see the chain fast food restaurants they’d only seen on TV.”
Yet, Frace never needed to take her students as far as Seattle to make an impact on them. Throughout her career, she’s taken students to places like Ocean Beach Hospital.
“She’s done a great service to the Ocean Park community,” said fellow teacher Amy Curry, whose two kids were taught by Frace. “She’s taught second generation students for so long now that she truly knows local families and how to connect with them.”
Curry said she and the rest of the community will miss having Frace in Ocean Park.
“It’s been fun being her friend and spending time with her,” Curry said. “She’s very positive, funny and loving.”
Frace has also given back to the community consistently. Frace started an annual program where students make gingerbread houses out of graham crackers. She also helped raise money for students to get classes when their parents couldn’t afford them.
No matter what, she’s given back to those around her.
“She’s one of those people you can turn to if you need somebody,” DeWitt said. “She’s someone you can count on and lean on. She makes you stronger.”
“I’m excited about doing other things but my heart will always have a huge spot for teaching and Ocean Park School,” Frace said.
Frace plans to travel with friends and her husband. She also hopes to spend more time crafting.
“Because teaching is all encompassing, I’ve let part of my personality sort of hang out in suspension. I really want to animate those parts of me,” Frace said. “ I have a whole artsy-fartsy side to explore.”
Frace said she plans on taking at least a year off from volunteering but thinks she’ll likely do volunteer work after the year’s up. She said she’s looking forward to knowing what life is like when she doesn’t have to be somewhere.
“All I can do is smile,” Frace said.