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AOS Welcomes New Staff

Posted on: October 1, 2021

AOS welcomed several new teachers and staff this year. Below are the staff welcomes, some of which were written by students in Ms. Bellando’s Journalism English class.

Jesse AitkenJesse Aitken joins AOS as the Math and Science teacher for Options Academy. A graduate of Western Oregon University with a Bachelors in math and a Masters in teaching, Mr. Aitken also teaches the photography elective. He fell in love with Alt Ed while student teaching at College Hill High School in Corvallis. In his free time he enjoys sports, photography, reading and gaming. When asked to share a piece of advice he lives by, he responded, “You never know what is going on in someone else’s life, so if they have a reaction to something that does not seem to make sense, understand that their anger [or] frustration may be directed elsewhere.” Students are sure to find patience and understanding in any class with Mr. Aitken.

– by Karyssa Negrete

Dari LawrieDari Lawrie is a new English and Social Studies teacher. Ms. Lawrie chose to teach at AOS because she loves her subjects and people. She believes in the alternative school model because she believes that everyone deserves a chance. In her free time Ms. Lawrie writes plays, short stories and poetry, and she also runs a chainsaw in the woods sometimes for various causes. For her, “the most important human quality is curiosity.” Students in her class learn to ask questions and participate in project-based learning.


Laura HekmanLaura Hekman is Options Academy’s new Language Arts teacher. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Mrs. Hekman states. As a child she would spend all day after school pretending to be a teacher, using her piano as her desk and assigning worksheets to her grandfather. In her free time, Mrs. Hekman enjoys physical activity such as yoga, gardening and rock climbing. She also enjoys creative hobbies like cooking with the food she grows in her garden. She even enjoys playing casual games like Stardew Valley and Battle Block Theater with her husband. “When a lot of things are going on in life… I find it comforting to know that I just need to take one day at a time.”

– by Avery Reynolds

Gabe DiazGabe Diaz joins the teaching staff this year from his previous position here as Bilingual Liaison. Now he is the CTE teacher, offering two different construction classes. Before getting into education, Mr. Diaz had never worked with students before, but he saw it as an opportunity to grow professionally and took it. He works at AOS specifically now because he was the type of kid in high school who would have benefited from a school like AOS, which did not exist when he was growing up in Puerto Rico. Mr. Diaz relates to the students here. “AOS lets you be you,” he said. “Trust yourself. You are more than what you think.” In his classes, Mr. Diaz gently pushes his students to be their best. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, playing music and building things.

Reymundo “Benny” Benavidez

Reymundo “Benny” Benavidez is the new Special Education teacher. He got into education because he had a hard time in school and wanted to make life better for the students he serves. He started his career with youth outreach, crisis, and secure facilities, but he always wanted to be a teacher. Mr. Benny enjoys watching movies with family, BBQ, Dallas Cowboys, Ford and the holidays. His message to students is “be proud of who you are, what you’ve been through and where you came from… Diversity is beautiful and part of what makes our home at AOS such a beautiful place.”

Blake LooneyBlake Looney is the new Science teacher in the high school program. As someone who struggled in high school, he didn’t always know he wanted to be a teacher, but Mr. Looney has the gift of encouragement; he sees himself as a person to spur others on to meet their full potential. He chose to work at AOS because he believes in the alternative school format and wanted to be somewhere that he could get to know students on a genuine level. A person of various interests, Mr. Looney enjoys growing carnivorous plants, being a part of his gym community, and watching good movies and TV. His advice for students even comes from the popular cartoon Adventure Time: “Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” Mr. Looney passes this advice on to students as a reminder that it takes time and a lot of failure to become truly great at something, so it’s always worth that first step.

Lori HalloranLori Halloran is a new special education assistant and SPED secretary. Before working at AOS, Mrs. Halloran volunteered at her children’s schools and enjoyed helping students. She chose to work at AOS because there are fewer students, meaning she could provide more individualized support for them. In her free time, Mrs. Halloran spends time with her two dogs and two cats, her husband and her two children going to their sports, choir, and band events. When asked for a piece of advice to relay to students, Mrs. Halloran responded emphatically: “Take notes! The amount of information we get in a typical day is a lot to retain… I still make notes and lists to remind me of what needs to be done in my day.”

– by Kaitlyn Hayner

Candace Caswell “Mrs. C”Candace Caswell “Mrs. C” joins the AOS staff as a Special Education Assistant and Food Services Assistant. She was guided into the field of education by Eunice Shriver in the early 1970s. Mrs.C lives on a ranch and loves to care for it. Students at AOS already love Mrs. C’s energy, excitement, and helpfulness as she floats around their classes to help them with school work or bring them breakfast. Some of them even refer to her as the AOS grandmother. “Accept no ‘should’ or ‘ought’ but your own,” Mrs. C said when asked about advice to live by, adding, “therefore, I judge no one.”

-by Kevin Bumgardner & Tori Teem

Anna WinnAnna Winn joins the AOS staff as a Special Education Assistant and the Food Services Assistant. She is excited to work at AOS because it is important to her to be in a position where she can help and make an impact on others, as well as still have time to be a parent. In her free time, Ms. Winn is an all-around creative person. A few of her hobbies include sewing, knitting and crocheting, along with active hobbies like biking and hiking. “I try to leave everything I touch better than I found it,” she said when asked for advice to live by.  “As humans we are responsible to be better and make all things better. It is possible, trying is key! You would be amazed at the difference you can make one day at a time.”

– by Cailan Hale