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Eastside Academy Offering an Education and Hope for the Future

  • Written by Kristen Hamilton
I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves a chance to live a safe, healthy and happy life.  At times though that is not always easy and for some teens in the area they’ve never had the opportunity.  For students at Eastside Academy, the circumstances vary (abuse, homelessness, addiction, pregnancy, gang violence) but the bottom line is they want to turn things around and have a shot at a future filled with hope versus despair.

Amy Effinger, Investments and Partnerships Officer at Eastside Academy, explains, “Eastside offers a holistic approach to learning.  Students are provided with an education while being treated for the underlying issues that cause them to struggle in all areas of their lives.” 
 
Eastside Academy Student Photos 0041Students at Eastside Academy (Courtesy photo)Eastside Academy is a not for profit alternative high school and treatment program that was established in 2001.  Students experience all of the class requirements that a traditional high school offers including Mathematics, English, Science, Social Studies, Arts, and even Foreign Language now. They are Christian based although all faith religions are welcome. They currently have a campus at Bellevue Presbyterian with 50 students (Bellevue) and at Overlake Christian Church with 25 students (Redmond).   Students are referred to Eastside through the court system, school counselors, friends, and family.
 
Unlike other school/treatment programs, the students are all from the Puget Sound area representing nine school districts and most come from poverty or low-income households.   Currently, all of the students at Eastside receive some level of financial assistant and as a result tuition makes up less than 8% of the annual budget.  The balance of the budget is raised through two annual fundraisers, foundation partners, corporations, and individual donations.  One of the fundraisers is the 13th Annual Evergreen Gavekal Golf Tournament held at the premier private Glendale Country Club on June 11 this year. There is still space available to join the fun and help support a great cause.  The other is a Dinner and Auction on October 20, 2018.
 
There are a few things that really set Eastside apart from other alternate high schools:
Highly individualized education with very small class sizes
Daily drug testing for all students
Weekly counseling with professionals to provide addiction recovery
Mental health counseling to address past trauma and break the cycle
Re:New Housing for those needing it offering a safe environment – these are the only long-term, voluntary homes for minors on the eastside
Community mentors for each student (when possible) offering support and guidance
Alumni are supported with access to professional and academic services
 
During the summer, students are always required to check in weekly at the school.  “This helps the students stay engaged,” Effinger said.  They try to combine this with a fun activity for the kids.  The students are also required to take a mandatory drug test to reinforce the importance of sobriety in the program.
 
Effinger got involved with Eastside when she volunteered as a mentor.  Mentors are required to meet with their assigned student once a week during the lunch period.  She said that the students embrace this program, as it is a safe place for them.  The young lady that Effinger mentored was able to open up and tell her story without judgment or consequences.  Effinger said, “These kids are really brave.” She added that she is blown away with their spirit and soul. 
 
On June 22, the Bellevue campus will honor five graduates and on June 23 the Overlake campus honors five graduates as well.  These students will join alumni who have found healing from their young lives that were filled with trauma and abuse.  Eastside has served hundreds of youth who now attend college, pursue careers, contribute positivity to their community, and raise families.
 
Sadly, following this June’s graduation, the Overlake campus will be closed.  Effinger explained that a budget shortfall due to the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) requirement of adding a foreign language to their program that was not initially anticipated is a big part of the budget shortfall.  She said that they are already working on additional fundraising efforts and hopeful to reopen this campus in the fall of 2019 offering a much needed middle school program.
 
If you want to learn more about Eastside Academy, register for the upcoming golf tournament, support financially, or volunteer, please visit www.EastsideAcademy.org.
 
An Eastside student shares his journey
 
I began using drugs at a really young age. I just got sucked into it by older kids. It felt like I was rebelling, which I liked. By 13, I was using heavily. I was robbing homes and stealing cars to support my drug habit. When I was 14, I was expelled from Junior High School for selling drugs on campus. Since I couldn’t go to school, I had a lot of free time, and I began selling drugs.
 
When I was 15, my mom asked me to leave our house.  She wanted me to stop using drugs, and I didn’t want to stop. For four months, I slept in a parking garage in Kirkland, and only went to school because it was a warm place to hang out. 
 
One morning, on January 18, I woke up and said, “I can’t keep doing this.” Someone was watching out for me. I remembered that a school counselor had told me about Eastside Academy, and that popped into my head. I went home and asked my mom to let me in. I told her I needed help, and I was willing to change.

I completed treatment and moved into the Re:New Homes at Eastside Academy. It literally saved my life.
 
I learned to do chores in the house, and how to live a happy life. I’ve learned coping skills, and how to be a team player. Recovery and Counseling helps with accountability in staying sober. I can talk one-on-one to counselors and share what I’m going through. 
 
I never thought I’d make it to 17 years old.  I thought I would be dead by 14.  Now, I have hope for my future. I can honestly do anything. Eastside Academy is like a family. I still have stuff to work on, but life is a journey, not a destination.  
 
–EA Student
 
This student graduated and received his high school diploma through Eastside Academy. Today, he has a career with opportunity for advancement and he travels the country to encourage others and speaks about sobriety.
 

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