Call it a win for parents and students in the Alki Program at Reeves Middle School.
Last spring, Olympia School District officials suspended the sixth-grade portion of the alternative middle school program because of low enrollment. But several parents and students organized an effort that resulted in the Olympia School Board reversing the administrators’ decision.
“They really pulled themselves together and essentially lobbied the district,” School Board President Justin Montermini said. “As a School Board member, I like to see that. I like to see people fired up.”
Named for the 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.
During its Aug. 3 meeting, the School Board voted to modify the district’s 2015-16 budget so that it could fund an additional part-time position at Alki for $30,000, district spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet said.
“The additional 0.4 (position) allows Alki to continue with a co-teaching model and include sixth-grade students in the program,” she said.
In the past, the program has had a waiting list. It generally serves 56-60 students — about 18 to 20 students per grade — according to Japhet. But on April 9, when the program had to give its enrollment numbers to the district, only 13 sixth-graders had registered, she said. Eventually, that number fell to 10.
School district officials said they couldn’t justify funding for sixth-graders with enrollment that low.
That’s when Alki’s high levels of parental involvement proved to be an asset.
Over the summer, Alki parents continued to recruit students for the program. They also attended several School Board meetings, and organized telephone and email campaigns featuring former students and families who spoke out in support of the program, Montermini said.
“When the program was essentially on the ropes, in terms of funding, the families and community connected to it really came out in force,” he said.
In the past, the Alki classes were led by two part-time teachers whose positions were 60 percent. At about the same time the cuts were announced, one of those teachers took a different position at the school.
With the additional 40 percent position, the Alki program will be reorganized so that it will be two classes instead of three, Montermini said.
The program’s organizers have been asked to look into whether Alki needs a different recruiting or enrollment approach.
“(The funding package) was put together to get us through the next year,” Montermini said. “Hopefully we won’t run into this again.”
Alki parent Sandra Miller said she’s happy with the outcome, and felt it was a valuable experience.
“It was great how the parents banded together,” she said.
Her 13-year-old son, Ross, who will be in eighth grade at Alki, and her 15-year-old son, Hayden, a recent graduate of the program, were part of the group that lobbied the School Board.
She said she was proud of her sons and the other students for being brave and speaking up for the program.
“The civics lesson that came out of this for the Alki community, I think, was really valuable because the kids got to understand that their voice matters and that the school district listens,” Miller said.
“To see that they could influence (the board) was a huge lesson.”
ENROLL IN ALKI
There are still spots in the Alki Program available for incoming sixth- and seventh-graders. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-596-6103.