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February 12, 2014 at 3:38 PM

Guest: Improvement at schools like Rainier Beach requires sustained funding

Recently, a colleague and I visited another Seattle high school. When we were introduced to the class as teachers from Rainier Beach High School, a ninth-grade boy with a friendly face asked, “You’re from Rainier Beach? Do you like working there? Isn’t it a bit … sketchy?”

Rainier Beach High School (Seattle Times photo archive)

Rainier Beach High School (Seattle Times photo archive)

This was a disappointing but familiar response. For some in our city, “Rainier Beach” is code for the kinds of race and class stereotypes heaped on similar schools and communities across the country. It is Seattle’s local version of epithets like urban, inner-city, troubled, failing.

There is a history behind these impressions: For decades our school was neglected by institutions responsible for supporting it and disparaged by a cross-section of Seattleites, many of whom had never set foot inside.

But the reality of Rainier Beach High School reflects a different story. For the past three years, I have been proud to work as a teacher and International Baccalaureate Program coordinator here, and I have known it as a school of admirable strengths and resiliency. I work in a school serving one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation, where nearly 90 percent of students live below the poverty line and close to half learn English as a second, third, fourth and — I am not exaggerating — even fifth language.  I work surrounded by warm, capable, intellectually curious students in a safe, welcoming school. I work alongside committed colleagues in a school community capable of remarkable things.

Our school-wide effort to implement an open-access IB program — currently with a 95-percent participation rate among 11th graders — is one example among many. Our coordinated work is paying off measurably with increasing enrollment and test scores and, perhaps more importantly, in the tangible sense of momentum felt around the building.

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