Your past does not have to be your future. That is just as true for a school as it is for a person and Rainier Beach High in South Seattle, Wash., is proof.
The Beach had been considered the worst high school in the city with a legacy of gang activities, high dropout rates and below-standard academics. “When I was a freshman, I would have cleaned sewers rather than come here,” senior Hussein Abshir told Seattle Times’ Claudia Rowe.
But three years ago school administrators took a gamble, applying to become an International Baccalaureate World School, which Rowe described as “a place where college-bound students take a rigorous slate of advanced courses and test their performance against some of the most privileged young people on Earth.”
The application was not only a success — the results have sent forth reverberations for other places grasping for a solution. Since 2011, the Beach has had a 25-point increase in its graduation rate and has left the district’s average in its wake. Last year 79 percent of the seniors earned a diploma, more five points higher than the rest of the city. Next year’s enrollment will be the highest for the school in a decade.
“It was really a shock, going from this laid-back place into a real academic school,” said 17-year-old Tavares Tagaleo’o. “I was hesitant at first, kind of intimidated. But IB is the reason why I come every day. I don’t honestly think I’d still be in school if it wasn’t for IB and how it challenged me.”
And the academic support doesn’t stop at the graduation ceremony as graduating seniors can now take advantage of a free year of college at the South Seattle Community College as part of the 13th Year Promise Scholarship Program. That program — a last-dollar-in scholarship which requires students to apply for federal aid — will ensure that Beach grads have no tuition or fees as a freshman.
“This is an amazing opportunity for our kids,” Rainier Beach Principal Dwane Chappelle said in 2013, when the program expanded to his school. “I think this is going to be a huge motivation for our students. I think this program will definitely change lives.”
The 13th Year Promise is one of two Promise programs in the shadow of the Space Needle. The Seattle Promise was launched in 2014 by the Seattle Central Foundation for needy students — adults included — interested in attending Seattle Central College.