When the Downtown Wenatchee Rotary Club was considering helping raise funds for WestSide High School three years ago, Ford Barrett was skeptical whether it would be worthwhile investment.
Barrett, a financial adviser with a military background who laughingly admits to being "kind of a redneck" on some issues, said while he has always been committed to getting more kids to graduate from high school, he wasn't convinced of the need for a school that uses non-traditional methods like flexible scheduling and individualized learning. His assumption was that all kids should go to a traditional high school.
But after working closely with WestSide teachers, students and staff, he's become a passionate advocate of the school as a smart investment for the community. This willingness to test assumptions and keep an open mind is a lesson for all of us.
What Barrett saw first hand was that there are a variety of youngsters who for one reason or another had a hard time being successful in a regular high school. He also made the important connection that the students there are human beings and not just troubled kids. He and the other club members learned that the students at WestSide are as diverse as in any school — not just a population of people who have had substance issues or are pregnant.
"These are real kids who come out of real families, they need really good jobs and to do that they need a good education," said Barrett. "WestSide has given that to them."
In the last three years, the service club's efforts have transformed the public perception of WestSide. What was a much-maligned institution is now widely recognized as a valuable part of the learning system in the Wenatchee valley, thanks to the club's efforts. The club raffle netted the school $70,000 a few years ago and this year's raffle is expected to bring in another $30,000 to $40,000. Furthermore, Rotary has provided mentoring and volunteer support as well.
On Friday night, the Rotary club will receive a richly-deserved state award from the Washington Alternative Learning Association for its support of alternative education. WestSide principal Kory Kalahar can't say enough about what an impact that community involvement has had on the school. The Rotary involvement in WestSide started with principal Jeff Johnson, who was succeeded by Kalahar two years ago.
Besides the community, the impact has been felt by students and faculty at the school. That image will be enhanced further when the school is moved into newly remodeled facilities in the old Eagles building on 9th Street.
One side benefit of the three-year partnership has been that the WestSide kids have been exposed to what being in a service club is all about — how it can impact the community, nation and world. "It's been a great teaching tool," Kalahar said.
Those folks still questioning the value of WestSide might be interested in knowing that the pioneering work that has been done there with respect to individualized learning and flexibly scheduling is being studied by the rest of the district because that is the future of learning.
Finding ways to work together is a defining attribute of the Wenatchee Valley. The Rotary-WestSide collaboration shows once again the value of working together on challenging issues to build a more resilient community. That's the secret sauce that makes this valley unique.