August 26, 2002
Project HOPE: A high school program in Bothell that never gives up on students
By Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
They attend high school in a storefront building in downtown Bothell. Each morning before classes start, the students grab a cup of coffee at nearby Steve's Cafˇ. Others make coffee or cocoa at the school, chat and take turns greeting Edgar, a big, lovable Bernese mountain dog. But at exactly 9:15 am, Contemporary Issues begins and the students gather to discuss current topics. Seated, they sip their drinks and explore world events and diverse issues like abortion and homosexuality. Edgar, the school's mascot, rests his head on a student's knee while the group shows respect by listening to the opinions of others. Not quite the picture the community might have of students labeled by the outside world as 'at risk.'
But the students attending Project Hope, an alternative high school program in Bothell, have heard the labels before. Considered 'tough case' or 'too difficult to handle,' students have histories of suspensions, truancy, and behavioral and emotional problems. Even without tags, their appearance seems a little extreme to those who don't know them. A boy might have a hairstyle that glows in bright blue. Or a girl may elect to dress in Gothic fashion with nails and lips that shine in black. Some of the students may wear spiked collars around their neck or large metal chains from their belt. But however they choose to express themselves and no matter what negatives they've experienced at past schools, they're welcome and wanted at Project HOPE. Susi Wight, program coordinator who founded the program in 1999, explains the school's goal, "The bottom line isn't how you look and isn't how you're dressed, but what you're learning. Are you learning 'to love' to learn?"
The school staff includes teacher and counselor Ken Shore, plus four instructional assistants. The curriculum covers a wide range of subjects and exceeds minimum school district standards. Students not only learn language arts and math but also employable skills as well as how to connect with people. In addition, a daily writing exercise encourages creativity and Shore comments that many of the students have a natural bent toward poetry, "The students seem to be somewhat natural poets due to an outgrowth of expression," he says.
Funded by the Northshore School District, Project HOPE accepts 10th through 12th graders from Northshore School District's three high schools. "We'll probably start [the school year this fall] with eleven students but we'll accept up to twenty-four," says Wight who has worked as a teacher, counselor and mentor to teens for thirty years.
Wight mentions that she purposefully chose the school's location. "I wanted the school downtown so the kids could learn to care about people who are different and the community could see that kids with purple hair and spiked collars are just like them."
Several downtown businesses realize the students' needs and have offered support. Jan Graves, manager of community partnerships and education for the Northshore School District, comments, "I tell you, the sphere of support has been heartening." Steve's Cafˇ has helped out and given a few students part-time jobs. Lynn Logsdon, owner of the building complex where the school is located, has also pitched in to help by setting up scholarships for the students in memory of her husband Max who passed away in 2001. Last June, four students received Logsdon's scholarships when they graduated. Lynn Logsdon recalls the kindness the students showed her husband when he was ill. They sent him a giant card, writing and drawing personal sentiments on it. "I was really touched," she says.
The students carried out other acts of caring in 2001. After 9/11, they gathered contributions to donate to the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle so that the homeless could have an enjoyable Thanksgiving. Shore says that the students don't initially come to the program with a feeling of caring about others. "It would be fair to say that a lot of the students who come in don't like school," he says, adding that many have feelings of skepticism when they begin the program. Also, a good number of the students have learning disabilities and carry a lot of frustration. But when the students see a difference in Project HOPE, their attitude changes. "What happens fairly quickly," Shore says, "the students see we're different, we're really positive, and the students become part of a caring community."
According to Susi Wight, the students soon realize that the staff at Project HOPE will never give up on the students. "We let them know we'll go the limit with them. We don't give up on kids," she says.
Going the limit isn't always easy but sometimes a little levity helps. When Wight welcomes a new student entering the program for the first time, a student may seem distant and unresponsive, staring at the floor. She says that she'll sometimes get the student to smile by asking, "How long do I have to wait until I see what color your eyes are?"
Eventually the new student gets to know the staff and the other students and begins to feel comfortable in a positive, non-judgmental atmosphere. "People learn by experiencing positives," says Wight. "Our job is to look for the good things they do and slowly shape the good behaviors with patience and guidance." The program enforces rules with encouragement and rewards. "We're developing a 'level' system," Wight says and states that once the students learn the rules, their independence at the school increases and they move to the next level. As they succeed at each level, they earn tickets granting them items such as a new magazine, candle or gift certificate to Barnes & Noble.
For information on how to contribute to the Max Logsdon Project HOPE Scholarship, visit www.npefoundation.org and click on 'Programs We Support.' For further information on Project HOPE, contact Ed Koehl, Asst. Director of Special Programs, at 425-489-6296.