Vashon Island School District Programs
Vashon Island School District is committed to providing every child with a high-quality education. Waterworks Partners in Learning is an innovative project that prepares young people for career success and promotes community involvement in helping students succeed in school. High risk students are offered opportunities for paid internships with local contractors. Students receive mentoring through their internship supervisor and a unique experiential learning opportunity that re-engages students with school.
Dropout rates have been low on Vashon due to a flawed measurement system. When students reported that they will be leaving the school for an online academy, a lack of follow up to make sure they registered in the online academy or participated in it skewed the actual dropout rates. Since 2003, 143 out of 1,500 students have dropped out of VISD. In 2009, twenty students dropped out of Vashon High School for one of the following reasons (never returned after a suspension, letter of failing grades, pregnancy, and drug use). However, in that same year, only five of these students were counted in the state drop out formula due to the requirements of the state system.
At-risk youth living on Vashon Island have few programs available that are specifically designed to capture their interests. Additionally, there is a lack of living wage job opportunities available on the Island. At the same time, Vashon has serious water quality issues. Our watershed is an EPA-designated sole source island aquifer - all drinking water sources on the island are supplied by precipitation. With 58 miles of the shoreline, Vashon stewards the majority of shoreline in King County affecting the Puget Sound. This project has addressed these issues simultaneously by offering high school course works that will result in water quality enhancement actions, increased job skills and job experience for youth, improved stewardship to slow environmental degradation, converted retention/detention pond into a living pond outdoor classroom, new life science water quality curriculum for all first through fifth graders, and the first green sustainability and design technology class in the state. This project has been a tremendous success.
The Waterworks Partners in Learning Project began as a pilot through the King County Waterworks grants, which enabled us to hire at-risk students to work alongside Island contractors to learn job skills. All internships had a connection to water quality. A coordinator was hired who was exemplary at reaching out to Island contractors to participate. Natural teachers came forward to offer internships and VISD provided employee training and strong support.
Between February 2010 and September 2011, we placed 17 Vashon High School students in water-quality related internships. These young people were referred to our program by high school counselors, teacher and other district staff because they were at risk of not graduating high school and/or going on to higher education because of one or more of the following factors: History of alcohol or drug use; attendance problems; being below grade level; receiving D or F grades; not speaking English at home; lack of interest in completing high school or going on to post secondary education; receiving special education services; or issues at home making school difficult.
In total, the 17 interns completed 949.75 hours of on-the-job training with nine businesses or nonprofits. All interns received overwhelmingly positive evaluations, with an average score of 23 out of 28. Of the interns who graduated from high school during or after their internships, five of six are working full time in the green collar trades (some hired to the companies with which they did their internship), one is in a construction training program. Those who did not graduate are still in school. The response from the internship supervisors, parents, and interns was very positive.
Additional funding will provide critical support to keep this project going, as the King County Waterworks Grants have ended. This project fosters college/career readiness & success, by connecting high-school dropouts and other off-track youth to post-secondary education and employment pathways, engages families and communities in ensuring student success through supporting greater collaboration between schools and informal STEM education providers in order to boost student interest and achievement in STEM fields by creating mentoring opportunities by local professional contractors; and crosses over into the environmental field by supporting environmental and sustainability education for youth in order to encourage the next generation of environmental stewards and leaders.
Recent Successes and Current Challenges
The school district's biggest challenge over the next 12 months will be to find creative ways to cut costs while preserving our quality of education. State budget cuts left the district $500,000 short for the current 2011-2012 school year and the district is getting the maximum amount allowed from tax levies.
Simultaneously, the school has passed a capital bond to renovate the school – a much needed and critical achievement. The remodel of the school district will provide opportunities to enhance our vocational education (Career and Technical Education) programs, and for teachers to collaborate in cross-credit classes – a CTE teacher and physics teacher jointly teaching robotics, for example. Our teachers will also connect with the contractors during construction to create experiential learning opportunities directly related to the construction so that students have multiple opportunities to apply their learning to the real world problems that contractors face.
Our board and staff are addressing these opportunities and challenges through a variety of means. Our interest is to continue to provide a rigorous and relevant educational program while looking for efficiencies and philanthropy to fill the gap in state funding. Recently formed is the Vashon Island Public Schools Foundation. The Foundation inspires our families, businesses, and community at large to work together for the sake of our children. Donations, program volunteers, and creative fundraisers have all increased even in the face of this stubborn recession.
Further, we have worked closely with our community partners such as Vashon Park District, Vashon Community PTSA, Vashon Partners in Education (PIE) and the Chamber of Commerce to coordinate program resources, coordinate fundraising, and to collaborate to meet mutual program goals for our students. For example, the PTSA and PIE are working together to provide funding to continue our 5th grade outdoor education program at Camp Waskowitz next spring. The PTSA will organize an auction next February to raise funds for textbooks and program supplies. Vashon Park District is a partner in facility maintenance and scheduling. We know that leveraging partnerships is a key strategy for sustaining excellence in our educational and co-curricular programs.