Dancer, teacher Jesse Jaramillo has died

Island Park Elementary students set up a memorial for Jesse Jaramillo in front of the school. - Rebecca Mar/Staff Photo
Island Park Elementary students set up a memorial for Jesse Jaramillo in front of the school.
— image credit: Rebecca Mar/Staff Photo

Dancer and physical education teacher Jesse Jaramillo, of Island Park Elementary School, died last Friday, Aug. 17, after suffering a heart attack on Wednesday.

Jaramillo, 59, was a physical education teacher for 11 years at Island Park. But he taught more than exercises, basketball skills or tumbling. He was a professional dancer who coaxed and inspired the elementary students to think and feel with movement.

Kathy Morrison, the former principal of Island Park, first learned of Jaramillo when he was hired as an artist in residence to teach dance at Lakeridge Elementary School.

“It was a time when fine arts were beginning to be incorporated throughout public school curriculum,” Morrison said.

Knowing those changes were coming, she kept her eye on Jaramillo, who taught in Woodinville schools. When the PE teacher at Island Park retired, Morrison hired in Jaramillo in 2001.

Throughout his years at Island Park, Jaramillo integrated dance and movement with the music program and other curriculum, incorporating it into studies of different cultures and traditions. He collaborated with others to design unique learning experiences for students.

He taught square dancing to students and helped start the school’s ‘Hoe Down’ evenings, when both students and families were invited to an evening of dance and music at the school.

“Dance is a language students can use,” he told the Reporter in 2002.

Jaramillo prepared students for the school district’s annual Fine Arts Showcase and brought in other artists in residence to teach and inspire students.

After school hours, Jaramillo wrote grants to expand arts programs, earned a master’s degree in education and attained his National Board Certification in 2009. He also attended seemingly hundreds of his students’ performances, games and concerts.

One grant awarded by the Mercer Island Community Fund was to help fund a dance program at all three elementary schools. Jaramillo, the instructor and coordinator of the program, said it would impact over 1,700 students.

He knew movement was essential to learning.

Jaramillo said then, “Children do better academically if they are provided with creative outlets and opportunities to engage in physical movement. They need the ability to express themselves with their bodies.”

On Monday, Morrison and Superintendent Gary Plano met with Island Park staff to remember Jaramillo. With laughter and tears, teachers and staff remembered that the dancer played football in college, loved to snowboard and essentially built himself the home that he shared with his wife, Nancy, in Kirkland.

Jaramillo was always concerned about every single child, whether or not they had athletic ability. He wanted them to feel confident about themselves. He wanted them to learn to be fit and always be ready to help one another, Morrison said. He was an example of that himself.

The Island Park staff remembered how he sat in the same place every day, eating his lunch, a salad, laughing and talking.

Plano said that the staff spoke about how to present the news of Jaramillo’s death to students at school next week. Counselors will be on hand.

Both Plano and Morrison remembered how thrilled and proud the teacher was last spring when Island Park won its very first All Island Track Meet, the 37th year of the event.

Island Park usually won the spirit award, Morrison said, which was always much more important to Jaramillo than winning.

Services were not announced by the Reporter’s press time. Go to for information.


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