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Struggling student to stellar educator

Tillamook High School science teacher Slade Sapora claims he was a terrible student.


“I couldn’t sit still. I was always bored,” he recalls of his time in school.


Growing up in Brookings, OR, a place he describes as “a lot like Tillamook,” Sapora knew he wanted to one day have a job in botany or geology.


“I always liked science and I wanted to know the names of every plant or be able to pick up a rock and know where it came from,” he said.


During his young adult summers, Sapora worked by himself for months on end in a fire lookout tower. Anticipating isolation for a few months at a time, he would pack his old science books and do a lot of self-learning.


“The first couple days are hard, and then it’s a lot of meditating,” Sapora said.


The majority of his time working for the Chetco Fire District in the Siskiyou National Forest (nicknamed the “asbestos forest” for the ever-lingering fog), fire watch was uneventful. But, Sapora recalled one night that a summer lightning storm lasted 10 hours and started 12 fires.


“There are two types of people when that happens: those who isolate away from the lightning, and those who stay and watch. I’m the latter: my energy matches the storm.”


At age 22, Sapora began his college career, earning his dream degrees in botany and geology by attending Lane Community College and Portland State University. In between school years, he continued spending his summer months fire watching, and eventually worked as a Park Ranger in the Redwood National Forest leading educational nature hikes.

Upon his college graduation, Sapora went to work for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, and then the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


“I worked with seabird data collection: a program that’s been happening since the 1960s,” Sapora said. “Seabirds’ overall health determines the overall health of our ocean ecosystem.”


After some time working up north, Sapora’s next adventure would take him to the southern hemisphere: Indonesia and Thailand.

“I learned to scuba dive, became a divemaster, and helped opened a tour company with a few friends,” he said.


Through their company, Good Time Adventures, Sapora and his business partners would take people on diving tours to the less “popular” spots on the reefs.


“The wildlife isn’t afraid of you if you’re calm. They’ll come right up to you,” Sapora said of the awe of scuba diving.  


A few years into the business, Sapora felt the need to “grow up and get a career,” so he headed back to the states.


He landed a job with 16 other biologists who were hired to evaluate the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


“Our larger organization was in charge of the entire coastline from Florida to Texas, collecting data about the state of the shorebirds,” he said. “My crew of 16 managed the data collection for the state of Louisiana. We would count how many of each species, if there was oil on them or not, and what time they were there.”


The data they collected was needed in order to quantify damages in a federal government lawsuit against BP. 


“We had to make our notes on special paper, seal them in envelopes, and send them off,” Sapora recalled. “I was a supervisor for the data’s chain of custody.”


In addition to seeing the devastation to the wildlife, Sapora said he witnessed firsthand the effects on the gulf’s local economy.


“We would hire local boat captains to take us to the local islands because they couldn’t fish anymore,” he said. “They had lost their livelihoods. All these boaters and fishermen, they couldn’t wait on the lawsuit money.” 


After some time “doing the most work, constantly, that I had ever done,” it was time to come back home to Oregon.


Sapora received his teaching degree from Southern Oregon University with an endorsement in biology. He was hired onto the science department at Tillamook high School in the fall of 2012.


“I wanted to be on the coast,” Sapora said. “It was like coming home and putting down roots.”


In his 11 years of teaching, Sapora has tried to make his classroom an environment that he felt he needed as a student.


"I try to make my work interactive, make connections, and make them meaningful,” he said. “The things we do in science are super fascinating and you can use them for the rest of your life.”


Sapora said he’s appreciative of the support he receives to take his students, especially marine biology students, outside and into the environments they are learning about.


“If I’m in need of resources, the community here helps us out,” Sapora said.


His intentional education methods have earned him respect from students, and community members, being voted first place educator in the Tillamook Headlight Herald’s 2023 Readers’ Choice.

“The kids in the community are, across the board, neat kids. They are kind and hard-working,” he said. “My coworkers are really great people: quality educators who are professional. This is a great place to work.”


When not in his classroom, or grading papers, Sapora enjoys spending time traveling with his family.

Or playing disc golf.


“I am currently leading the development of a new, tournament-quality disc golf course near the Air Museum in cooperation with the Port of Tillamook,” he said.


He loves to play; so challenge him to a game. 


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