Education

Slain Pasco teacher’s legacy of helping kids in need continues

Laura Cole spent her life trying to make the world more magical.

“She did this each and every day with her students,” said Jennifer Coppinger, a Pasco School District educational specialist, who worked with Cole during her two years with the district.

Slightly more than a year after her murder, Cole’s memory is living on in the form of two $500 grants going to Pasco school employees working with students with disabilities.

Cole and her husband and fellow Pasco teacher Dustin Altshuler were found dead in a apparent murder-suicide inside their Keller Place home in Kennewick’s Canyon Lakes neighborhood on Oct. 31, 2018, police said.

Earlier in the week, Altshuler had been placed on administrative leave after his arrest for allegedly groping a female taxi driver after a night of drinking.

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Laura Cole

With the help of donations collected at her memorial, Cole’s father Tom Cole created an endowment through the Pasco Education Foundation for the Laura Cole Memorial Grant.

The foundation recently started collecting applications for the grants.

“Honoring her passion for books, as well as her dedication to working with students with special needs through a grant in her name, ensures that while she is gone she will never be forgotten,” Coppinger said.

The grant is aimed at a wide swath of Pasco staff, and asks that $50 of the grant be spent on providing reading materials to students, and that the program benefit students with disabilities.

“It’s available to any staff member who is positively affecting students with disabilities,” said Melanie Norris, the foundation’s director. “We tried to keep it pretty broad.”

Teacher and author

Laura Cole, 35, championed animals, children and senior citizens, her father old the Herald shortly after her death. She was always searching for new ways to engage her students so they could reach their full potential.

The Vermont native graduated first in her high school class at Essex Junction. She loved animals, and considered becoming a veterinarian. She also loved helping people.

When she graduated from the University of Vermont, she worked with a local hospice and cared for her ailing grandparents, her father said.

She got her master’s in special education, and moved west after visiting her sister and family in Seattle.

She went to work in Pasco in 2016, starting at Stevens Middle School and the district’s Early Learning Center before going to Whittier Elementary.

In her short time with the district, she made a difference in the lives of special need students.

“Feedback we got from (colleagues and administrators) while we visited Laura there from Vermont was always glowing,” Tom Cole said.

Along with her work with students, she also wrote young adult fantasy novels that are still available through Amazon.

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Even now, her co-workers and friends continue to share memories with her parents.

“We would like to thank the many people who continue to send us memories of Laura, and those who contribute to her fund so her special needs work continues on,” they said.

People can contact the foundation at pef@psd1.org or by calling 509-531-3801.

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Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.
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