In the midst of a global pandemic, the Seattle Promise program, which guarantees two years tuition-free at Seattle Colleges, is thriving. This fall, more than 1,100 students are enrolled in Seattle Promise, working toward a degree or certificate they might otherwise not be able to afford.
Nationally, during the pandemic, nearly all community colleges saw enrollment drop. But at Seattle Colleges, the nationally recognized Seattle Promise program actually grew post-secondary enrollment because of our partnerships and targeted student services.
For decades, the Rainier Beach community watched as other better-resourced high schools got major building renovations, waiting for their turn. Yet as various Seattle Public Schools’ (SPS) building levies passed them by, many members of the student population at Rainier Beach High School (RBHS) — which is currently 97% students of color — began to speak out.
From within a building built in 1961, students have been mounting pressure on the district for more than a decade. Finally, in 2019, the school board approved a replacement building as part of the Building Excellence (BEX) V Capital Levy. With RBHS set for a rebuild beginning next summer, the Emerald spoke to four students who were active in different waves of the push to make that happen.
In July, the Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL) awarded $1 million to 17 local organizations to support summer learning programs. Mostly concentrated in the South End, these funds will support programs that help students prepare for school in the fall.
Chris Alejano, the interim K–12 division director for DEEL, explained that the department had an idea of what type of organizations they wanted to partner with. They specifically looked for programs that support getting students ready for school while also prioritizing mental and physical wellness and addressing educational gaps.
“We’re looking for organizations that have a history of serving those students that are furthest away from educational justice,” Alejano said. “[Also organizations] that had some sort of experience achieving outcomes related to academic support, college and career readiness, [and] health and wellness — or at least a plan that showed that they had a strategy behind how they were going to address those topics.”
Advanced learning programs first made an appearance in Seattle schools during the 1960s with the adoption of the “Policy for the Education of Able Learners.” The program was created with the intent of providing every student with an education that would “challenge [their] maximum ability and meet [their] individual needs.” However, after introducing school busing in the 1970s, the district used this program as an incentive to keep white parents who opposed racial integration from pulling their children out of Seattle schools. This program provided select white students with an education separate from their Black and Brown peers, perpetuating a segregated school system.
Throughout Washington state, schools are required to provide “highly capable programs” for students they deem “gifted.” The state defines gifted as “students who perform or show potential for performing at significantly advanced academic levels when compared with others of their age, experiences, or environments.” The state allocates funds for each school district and, in return, school districts must abide by the state Legislature’s policies regarding basic education, which were redefined in 2011 to include programs for highly capable students. However, as you will see, these programs are built upon a foundation of white supremacy and constructed with the intent to perpetuate the segregation of schools on the basis of race and socioeconomic status.
Brandon Hersey was appointed to the Seattle Public Schools Board to represent District 7 after Betty Patu resigned in 2019. Hersey, who was raised in a home of Black educators, currently lives in Rainier Beach and teaches second grade at Rainier View Elementary in Federal Way. Before becoming a teacher, Hersey’s experience in education policy included working for the Obama Administration as a policy analyst focusing on children and family issues.
On March 19, Michelle Sarju announced her candidacy for the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) District 5 School Board Director seat. SPS District 5 includes most of the downtown area from the Sound to Lake Washington and, specifically, the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, the Chinatown/International District, First Hill, Leschi, Madison, and the Central District. Outgoing District 5 Board Director Zachary DeWolf has been one of those who have endorsed Sarju as her campaign launched.
In an interview with the Emerald, Sarju reflected on her professional life and how she feels it has prepared her to step into this role at this particular, historic moment. She also spoke about why she thinks it’s important the board includes a Black resident from the Central District who has had three children in SPS.
It took several attempts before I could finally write this article. What do the 2020 election victories for Black women Democrats mean to me as a Black, mixed-race woman? Each time, I erupted in explosive grief. A complex grief that holds a thousand stories.
Rainier Beach High School freshman Fatima Kabba says it’s really hard for her to learn from home, even with a good internet connection.
“Sometimes, it’s pretty hard, because you can’t find, like, a quiet space to do your work,” Kabba said. “And sometimes there’s other people with different classes, and sometimes you might share the same room with your siblings, so it might be hard for you to concentrate. If we did have online classes, imagine having seven siblings, each one [on] a device — and you’re probably in separate rooms, but you’re going to hear their noises.”