Kat Armstrong, Restorative Justice Specialist
To Kat Armstrong, everyone has the potential to succeed. Everyone.
“I feel like not everybody gets dealt a great hand in life,” she said. “But the more you can educate kids on breaking cycles, the more successful they’ll be.”
Breaking cycles is what Kat’s all about. She’s worked with the district’s at-risk population for 21 years. Eight of those years have been spent at Union School, where she works with kids in grades 6-12 as a restorative justice specialist and internship coordinator, a position similar to a dean at traditional schools.
Prior to coming to Nampa School District, she worked at Mercy Hospital’s drug and alcohol treatment program for adolescents. Mary Ensley, who at the time oversaw the district’s counseling program, encouraged her to get certified and come work for NSD.
“I tell the kids here that it’s the people you meet in life who build bridges for you,” she said. “It’s mentors (like Mary) who go to bat for them.”
Kat freely admits that working with at-risk kids is her passion. “My dad didn’t graduate from high school. But he always preached that you should be able to stand on your own two feet. You’ve got to want something better for your future, changing each generation to make it better.”
That’s something she’s taken to heart in raising her own three kids with her husband, a law enforcement officer for the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office. Mike has worked for CCSO as an undercover narcotics officer, explosive ordnance disposal officer, and captain of the SWAT team.
Together they have raised Kyndrah, 26, Hailey, 24, and Coby, 20 (nick-named TxoTxo, “son,” in a nod to Mike’s Basque heritage). She also is anxiously awaiting her first grandchild, a little girl due in January.
“I feel like I did a pretty good job with my kids, and my grandkids can do even better,” she said.
Kat headed to the University of New York after graduating from Caldwell High, eventually graduating from the University of Utah. But she is an Idaho girl at heart who has spent a lifetime building memories with her family. Her favorites include camping and hiking trips, including time on Freddy’s Stack Rock Trail. Kat said Freddy and her mother got together after her dad passed away, and he created many happy memories for her and her family.
Those memories include an annual Easter hike to Table Rock, which the grandparents turned into a scavenger hunt for Kat’s children. She has fond memories of her kids reading clues leading them to their Easter gifts while hiking up the trail.
“It was always so hot, but it’s one of our fondest memories,” Kat recalls.
Other special life moments include traveling to Peru and Costa Rica. She hopes to add Spain to the list someday, where she can hike the 100-mile El Camino de Santiago (the Camino Trail). She also treasures family snapshots in time – silly things her husband does to make her laugh, kind moments between her children. Family being family.
In fact, if she had a do-over in life, she would reconsider her move to New York – “because I could have spent those years with my dad,” who died at age 50. Still, she recognizes that he would have encouraged her to go and experience life.
Her advice to others is to be true to yourself. She wishes she had been less of a people pleaser in high school while she tried to figure out her place in the world (“I gave my mom a run for her money”). She realizes that trying to please everyone else in order to get them to like her kept her from her full potential.
All in all, Kat believes that life is good. When she is gone, she hopes that her relationships with kids others might label as trouble will be honored. “I hope they don’t kick anybody out,” she said. “I want them there at my funeral. I want those kids who thought highly of me. I really want to know that I made a difference, not only in my kids’ lives, but in other people’s lives as well. I want to help them be the best they can be.”