SU Students Are Mentors at Washington Middle School
A Capitol Hill native, Washington Middle School Principal Jon Halfaker aims to quash urban myths about inner-city public schools.
Tucked behind Franz Bakery at 21st and Jackson, Washington has a class that does volunteer work at a neighborhood food bank and eighth graders so advanced they're studying geometry.
The majority of the 1,000-plus students are between ages 12 and 14. The mix is about 30 percent African American, Asian and Caucasian, 10 percent Latino and roughly 1 percent Native American.
At Washington 14 of his 17 years with Seattle Public Schools, Halfaker and his family live within blocks of Washington.
Washington added a notable presence of SU students in recent years, with about 40 currently in work-study and volunteer roles.
You have said the partnership with SU is especially beneficial for Washington Middle School. How so?
Our partnership with SU students is a necessary and natural one. They serve as tutors and academic support for literacy and they also care about our community. We began to ask, 'how can we grow that partnership?' SU's Redhawk Academic Mentors are the right next step. These mentors provide our middle school stu-
dents with visible role models.
The difference between a 14-year-old and
a 21-year-old is only seven years. College students can have a huge impact on middle schoolers. They can talk about similar things. And getting our students to college is one of our goals, not just here, but district-wide. To make that happen, our students need to be able to see what that looks like.
Can you share a few of your success stories?
Yesterday a former student of mine came to visit wearing an SU sweatshirt. He asked if he could include me in his senior project at SU on policy studies. He told me he wants to go to graduate school to study a combination of science and law. I was the soccer coach for five other former students who visited me recently. Four are now in college and the fifth has his own business. A couple of them had a really rough time when they were younger, too.
What is it about middle school that drew you to this work?
You have to have a little bit of a middle schooler inside you to be here. You also have to be willing to try things you haven't tried before. There's a strong sense of urgency in closing the gap in any and all ways possible. It all starts with early childhood literacy. When that clicks, look out.