After years of struggling with academics, Toni Jenkins’ 12-year-old son recently made the honor roll at Reeves Middle School in Olympia.
“We give a lot of credit to Alki for that,” Jenkins said.
Alki is a multi-age alternative program housed at Reeves that serves students in grades 6-8 from throughout the Olympia School District. But district officials have suspended the program next school year for sixth-graders because of low enrollment.
Named after a Chinook Indian word meaning “bye and bye,” or “hope for the future,” the Alki program focuses largely on cooperative learning. It features more field trips, a higher level of parental participation and different educational experiences than traditional middle school programs.
In the past, the program has had a waiting list. It generally serves 56-60 students, or about 18 to 20 per grade, said district spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet.
However, on April 9, when the program had to give its enrollment numbers to the district, only 13 sixth graders had enrolled for the coming year, she said. Eventually, that number fell to 10.
“It’s just a simple matter that you can’t pay for a teacher for 10 kids,” Japhet said. “It’s one of our alternative programs, and unfortunately the numbers just aren’t there.”
Several Alki parents, students and alumni spoke during Monday night’s Olympia School Board meeting, saying they weren’t notified early enough about potential cuts to the program.
“If we had known that this was at risk, we would have recruited differently,” said Kirsten Holm, whose daughter just finished sixth-grade in the program. “I would have talked to parents everywhere.”
In addition, some parents say they’re concerned that the elimination of this year’s sixth-grade class will put the wheels in motion to eventually phase out the program.
But district officials say that’s not the case.
“The intention is not to end this program,” Japhet said. “That’s not what’s happening here. It’s just a simple matter of economics.”
According to a brochure for the program, students in the Alki program attend classes with other Reeves students for the first three periods of the day — for math, PE/health and music. The last half of the day is spent in a multi-age classroom for science, social studies, reading, writing and art.
“It’s like a one-room school house within Reeves Middle School,” Jenkins said.
In the past, the Alki classes were led by two part-time teachers whose positions are 60 percent. With the loss of the sixth-grade portion, the program will be led during the 2015-16 school year by a single teacher, according to Japhet. The other teacher has taken a different position at the school, she said.
Those remaining in the program will have Alki classes for two periods a day, and their science classes will no longer be included in the Alki program, Japhet said.
If the program is able to enroll enough sixth-grade students next spring, the district could restore funding and reopen the program for grades six through eight during the 2016-17 school year, Japhet said.
“If the numbers change, then we can reinstate that portion of it,” she said.
Some of the people who attended Monday’s meeting say they will continue to put pressure on School Board members and district officials because they don’t want the program to get cut for the 2015-16 school year. Alki parents say they also want to encourage anyone who is interested in the program to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I am optimistic that we will enroll more students, the funding will come with those kids, and Reeves will hire another teacher,” said Alki parent Teresa Eckstein. She said middle school students from Olympia School District, as well as those who live outside the district’s boundaries, can apply for the program.
Recent Alki graduate Austin Wright, who will be a ninth-grader at Avanti High School in the fall, urged the School Board to continue supporting the program.
. “I think my three years of middle school would have been very hard if it wasn’t for this program.”