Longtime Muldown teachers Snipes, Dowaliby retire
Muldown teachers Shelly Snipes and Kitty Dowaliby are both retiring this year after decades of teaching. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)
Whitefish Pilot | June 8, 2022 1:00 AM
Shelly Snipes retires from 'dream job'
After spending 30 years at her dream job teaching at Muldown Elementary School, Shelly Snipes is retiring this summer. Her passion for teaching is as deep as her family roots in Whitefish.
Snipes has three children who live nearby and her parents live right across the street from her. Her husband’s parents live in the Flathead Valley, too.
“I think you kinda forget that there are not that many people here who’ve been here their whole lives with their families,” Snipes observed. “It’s kinda special.”
Her family’s connection to the Whitefish community is rooted in their remarkable involvement with the school district.
“My dad was born and raised here, so we’ve been here forever,” she said. “I went to Muldown School, my children went to Muldown, my mom taught at Muldown.”
Snipes' middle son, Tyler Snipes teaches third grade at Muldown and two of her three granddaughters now attend Muldown.
“When I started at Muldown, my mom was teaching and I got to teach with her for my first few years,” Snipes said. “And Tyler, it’s his third year here, so I got to teach with him for his first few years.”
Tyler said when he was student teaching, his mom was working in the fourth grade so he would go see her during breaks or after work to talk with her and get advice. He said he learned the ins and outs of teaching from his mom and from the rest of the fourth-grade staff.
“She gives the students everything she has and makes them feel important and shows them that they can do something that maybe they’re having a lot of trouble with,” Tyler said of his mother. “She’s been a great role model for me and for many other teachers at the school.”
Tyler playfully credits his brothers and himself for his mother’s abundant patience. He said that raising three rambunctious boys that didn’t always follow the rules allowed his mother to practice her patience and she uses that daily at school.
“She’s really passionate and one of the most patient human beings I’ve ever met,” he said.
Snipes and her husband, Terry, spent their first year teaching on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona, then she taught in Kalispell at St. Matthew’s School for three years before getting what she calls her “dream job” at Muldown Elementary.
With few exceptions, she’s spent every year teaching fourth graders and said the best parts of her job are the kids and the wonderful friends she’s made with staff members.
“It’s just been such an honor to be part of this community and I just feel really proud,” she said.
The reality of her retirement hasn’t sunk in yet for Snipes. She said since teachers are accustomed to a summer break, it likely won’t hit her until September starts and everyone else is going back to school. She has some ideas of what she’d like to do with her time in retirement.
“I think my husband and I are going to travel some, spend more time with the grandkids and maybe substitute teach a little bit when I feel lonely for kids and other adults,” she said.
“I have lots of retired friends. They walk and go out for coffee and play pickleball and read a lot — I’ll join that team,” she added.
Dowaliby will miss the kind nature of her students
Muldown teacher Kitty Dowaliby has over three decades of experience teaching in the valley.
In 1988, Dowaliby started her career as a fifth-grade teacher at West Valley School in Kalispell and has been teaching second, third and fourth graders at Muldown Elementary since 2000. This year she said it is time to pass the torch and will retire in June.
“West Valley was a cool way to begin my career and this is a cool way to end my career, in my hometown,” she said. “My family was in the tourist industry in West Glacier for 70 years so I'm a local gal,” she said.
Her son and daughter are both graduates of Whitefish High School and now live with their spouses and children in Missoula. Her daughter, Emma, works as a teacher and when she thought she wanted to teach third-graders forever, her mother told her there are great things and challenging things about all the grade levels.
Dowaliby remembers when she was a student in the second grade, her teacher used a red pen. That made quite an impression on her and it was then she decided she wanted to be a teacher — because she wanted to use a red pen. The pen might have gotten her into teaching but it is the students that kept her there.
“The kids are so funny. There's a lot of learning and a lot of academic progress and these guys are fun,” she said. “They’re just so sweet.”
Recently, her students wove dandelion crowns for her during a class period outdoors. She said they have drawn pictures of her skiing and of her beloved dog and have made rubber band bracelets for her. Her students even include Dowaliby’s husband, Mark, when they bring treats to school for their birthdays. She says her students are inclusive, considerate and kind.
“The kids have such a way of showing their love and adoration and appreciation for you,” she said. “They know me very well and I know them very well. We spend a lot of time together.”
To encourage these innate characteristics, Dowaliby taught a lesson in opinion writing early in the year. Although it may sound like an advanced assignment for second graders, the exercise helped the students be more open to other points of view. They don’t react negatively to another person’s opinions.
“They have a voice and they have an opinion as long as they can always cite examples and give reasons,” she explained. “I want them to be respectful and listen to everyone’s opinion.”
The end of the school year can be stressful as it is rife with tests. Dowaliby made sure to talk to her students about how proud she was of them as they negotiated their way through the end-of-year tests.
“They persevered, even though sometimes things were hard… you can tell when they are trying — when their little tongues are sticking out of their mouths,” she said. “And I like that they don’t compare themselves to one another. I hope they keep the respect and sweet nature and always care about their academics and they can always choose to have fun.”
Teaching a class of 18 second graders can be challenging and Dowaliby is lucky to have a trusted, experienced assistant in the classroom on the last Friday of every month. His name is
Toby, an Australian shepherd who loves the kids and gets along with everyone.
Part of his job description is to patiently and lovingly sit on a blanket and listen to the students read to him. Several staff members have told Dowaliby that she can’t retire because Toby is not ready to retire.
“The kids adore him and he adores them. He’s quite famous around here,” she said. “The kids are kind and respectful to him. They love him and it's very sweet to see.”
Over the past few years, some of Dowaliby’s students have been keeping track of their teacher’s vertical feet skied on Big Mountain. One of her goals for retirement is to rack up plenty of vertical feet and keep track of it herself. She said she wants to give them something to talk about.
“I’m going after some vertical feet and I’d like to do a couple ski trips with my sister and spend time with my mom, who lives in Kalispell,” she said. “I don’t have big, huge plans but I have lots I want to do. It’s just that simple.”