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Mental Health Breakthrough Helps Crystalize Dream

Jan 13, 2023

Therapy—and online university scholarship—fuel Omak teacher’s dream to create immersion language farm school

Navigating the pandemic took its toll on many people, especially teachers. For Omak Middle School teacher, Michelle Rubio-Brooks, it pushed her undiagnosed anxiety to an all-time high. Little did she know she would eventually leverage her anxiety as a tool for success.

Her struggles began in 2021 when she was striving to manage her mental health, Covid, and a newborn baby. Life was overwhelming.

“I was anxious and depressed, so I went to therapy. I feel most of my anxiety comes from wanting to be a perfect teacher, but I learned the skills to make that perfectionism work for me,” she says. “A big part of that was creating strong boundaries at work and enjoying life outside of being a teacher, too.”

Her techniques to cope with anxiety have helped her live a fulfilling life that is no longer overwhelming. She created boundaries within her workday and learned to say no.

“I have been happier in my personal life because I balance the things I want to do with the things that I need to do. I am a better teacher when I am happier!”

What once felt like a crutch for Rubio-Brooks has evolved into an invaluable asset when connecting with her students.

“The best part about dealing with anxiety is noticing the signs that students are struggling. I wasn't diagnosed with an anxiety disorder until I was an adult, so I had to deal with untreated anxiety, and it negatively impacted my life,” she says. “Being able to see signs allows me to communicate with parents and counseling services to get students support for their mental health.” 

Rubio-Brooks says one former student, who is still in her school, will seek her out when she starts having an anxiety attack.

“We will talk through breathing strategies, hang out in my calm corner and color, or eat some sour candy to reset our brains a bit. I teach some general coping strategies for stress (and other emotions) in class, so students learn these skills and often come and ask questions or get help if our counselor is busy.”

As she continued to practice these techniques, her world expanded. Rubio-Brooks felt even more determined to pursue her long-term dream of creating an immersion language farm school. She knew that she needed to go back to school and learn more.   

She decided to pursue her masters at  WGU Washington  and applied for the university’s I Have a Dream Scholarship, which gives students up to $4,000 towards tuition. It’s aimed towards people who have always dreamed of completing their college degrees and advancing their careers but faced challenges that prevented them from moving forward. Rubio-Brooks is now working on her masters in Curriculum and Instruction.

Her dream is deeply centered on diversity and representation, especially with children. She lives in Omak, and the town is part of the Coville Reservation. So, for Rubio-Brooks, creating an immersion language farm school is completely in alignment with diversity and culture. She whole-heartedly believes that multilingual education is the future. Having students learn multiple languages, she says, allows them to connect with other cultures, lands, and people.

“I am Hispanic and would have loved to be able to go to a Spanish immersion school to connect with that part of my culture,” she says.

She wants all her students to be represented in classroom content and teaching, so it is relatable to them. Bringing their culture into the classroom makes them feel safe and valued, which she strives to do as a teacher.

“Many Indigenous languages are dying out because of the brutal assimilation period. I believe all Native and Indigenous students should have the ability to learn their languages of their people,” she says. “I want to support Native communities in rebuilding their culture and allow for that space and celebration for culture within a school.

“The farm school is a dream I've had for a while to help students learn to care for the land, raise animals, and learn practical trades,” she says. “A fully sustainable school with its own gardens sounds like such a magical school. Being outdoors would also promote mental health wellness that is essential for adolescent students.” 

Rubio-Brooks thinks many children in her area feel like they aren't good at school or don't fit in within the system, so many end up dropping out. She believes place-based education can help students learn skills in a way that will be applicable to their lives way beyond the classroom.

“I want students to be taught and learn the skills it takes to be successful adults who can be healthy and happy,” she says. “My greatest dream is that all students have a place to feel loved and valued, while learning content and skills to help them be happy and successful in their lives after high school.”

By Courtney Dunham, Communications Manager for WGU Northwest Region. For media or other inquiries, contact Courtney at 206.388.8926 or

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