Teacher's retirement signals "island's" end

Photo Courtesy Craig Chambers

Photo Courtesy Craig Chambers

DOWNEY - You could say that Randee Bolt-Chambers had the coolest classroom on the Griffiths Middle School campus, but you’d be wrong. Bolt-Chambers doesn’t have a classroom; she has an island.

Bolt-Chambers, 68, has taught for 35 years, 25 of which with the Indians. She received her Bachelors of Science in Agricultural Biology from Cal Poly Pomona in 1976, and her teaching credential in agricultural sciences for kindergarten through 12th grade with a supplement in biology. She also received her Master’s in 1984 in Agricultural Science.

Bolt-Chambers’s career began in Los Angeles Unified School District, before she moved on to Christian Schools.

It was fate, however, that brought her to Downey Unified School District.

“I ended up at Griffiths after I had [my daughters] Cameron and Caitee,” said Bolt-Chambers. “My husband Craig had lost his job with the phone company, so we made a deal: whoever gets a job first goes to work, and the other stays home.”

“I started applying at different school districts and didn’t hear from anybody for the longest time…next thing I know I get a phone call from Bellflower School District to come in and interview…I no more than got home and Downey called and asked for an interview.”

Both districts had just received an influx of students and needed an extra teacher on deck. While Bolt-Chambers admits that she always preferred Downey to Bellflower, a need to provide for her family led Bolt-Chambers to make a decision: whichever district called first, she would accept.

“I felt really comfortable at Griffiths. It was like, ‘I really want to be here,’” said Bolt-Chambers. “But as fate would have it, Bellflower called first.”

However, fate stepped in again; Bellflower’s credentialing person was on vacation and would not be back in until the following week. Within 15 minutes of hanging up the phone with Bellflower, DUSD called.

Having not signed anything official with Bellflower yet, Bolt-Chambers was torn.

“I grew up with the ethics of you make a promise, you keep your promise,” said Bolt-Chambers.

Bolt-Chambers’s first staff photo at Griffith’s Middle School

Bolt-Chambers’s first staff photo at Griffith’s Middle School

The principal at Griffiths at the time was eager to bring Bolt-Chambers on board, and was able to guarantee a year of employment as opposed to the semester Bellflower had promised. She even ended up with a higher salary than anticipated.

The rest of the story, of course, is history, as Bolt-Chambers has enjoyed a long tenure with the Indians.

Classroom 71 has been a longtime favorite amongst sixth graders, majorly in part to the elaborate decoration and detail that adorns the walls.

Bolt-Chambers says that she wanted to create an environment where sixth graders could have fun and work together while learning.

“I had been learning more about cooperative and collaborative learning,” said Bolt-Chambers. “They wanted kids working more together, and I was trying to think of ways to make it more interesting and fun for sixth graders, who fortunately still for the most part like to have fun, and they like to laugh and they like to have fun. They’re not ‘middle school tainted’ yet…they’re not teenagers yet, but they’re not little kids anymore. That’s why they call them tweens; they’re just neither one. They’re a very special group, and I love them for that.”

Before the island was a space camp, however when the curriculum changed, the classroom was forced to evolve.

“When the curriculum changed, we went in to teaching geology; more geology than anything else,” said Bolt-Chambers. “So I decided, ‘okay, let’s be an island.’”

Thus, the island affectionately known as LuaPela’Pela’A’heA’honeua took shape.

Photo courtesy of Craig Chambers

Photo courtesy of Craig Chambers

On LuaPela’Pela’A’heA’honeua, you’ll find fish and reptiles, a watchful monkey, a tiki, and an abundance of flamingos. Sounds of the rainforest fill the space. A weather man reports the forecast from a ham radio station. There’s even a volcano that erupts from time to time.

“It’s just built over the years,” said Bolt-Chambers. “It was one small little germ of an idea, and then this gets added in, and this gets added… it gets extremely involved. It’s not something a first-year teacher can just go in and copy…it’s what works for you. Teaching the thematic way has worked for me.”

And of course, the island’s lone inhabitants consist of Bolt-Chambers and her shipwrecked students, which she has split into several four-person teams consisting of a captain, first mate, navigator, and communicator.

At the end of each year, Bolt-Chambers says that “the yacht comes and picks me up off the island.”

Unfortunately for students, Bolt-Chambers has announced her retirement, signaling the end of her famed island.

“The final decision was my health,” said Bolt-Chambers, who has been plagued by several health concerns over the last few years. “This last issue just put me over the edge.”

“My kids…they need somebody that can be there now and be able to run after them, chase after them, and be able to be creative with the different projects and ideas and things to do.”

Bolt-Chambers says that she “had such a great run as a teacher.”

“I’m so thankful that I went the direction that I did, and that God has really blessed every moment that I had,” said Bolt-Chambers. “I would say 99 percent of the students I had were fantastic young boys and young girls that turned into such lovely men and women. I’m so proud of so many of the things that you all have accomplished.”

“The Yacht” sailed Bolt-Chambers off the island for the last time on June 2.