Last month, students at Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (RVLA) got a new school home. While the building will be dedicated long-term to RVLA Middle School (RVLA MS), this year the founding class of RVLA High School will also share the campus. To celebrate the new building, RVLA students and staff, along with community partners, hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony and shared their thoughts on the importance of having high quality public school options in their neighborhood.
“Education literally saved my life,” shared State Representative Eric Pettigew of the 37th District, who spoke at the event. “Charters are one idea. Traditional public schools are another idea. Whatever works. I believe that whatever light switch you can turn on in a kid, whether it’s in the chemistry lab, if it’s on the baseball diamond, if it’s in the woodshop--whatever it is--every kid has a light switch. It’s up to us, as adults and as leaders, to turn that on.”
The school’s small class sizes and the exceptional services provided to students with special needs are what drew Kendra Willis, an RVLA MS parent of both a sixth grade and a seventh grade student. “There’s a fantastic team for what [my son] needs,” said Willis. “Whether it be social emotional support or organizational support, they’ve been here and they’ve done all that for him.” Willis appreciates that all of the RVLA MS staff has taken measures to show their support for all students, and stay in frequent communication with parents: “I get phone calls just to say, ‘Your child raised his hand in class today and contributed to the classroom discussion.’ That’s something that we’ve been working on for years, so just hearing that is amazing.”
Dr. Stephan Blanford, Executive in Residence at the Seattle Foundation, also spoke to families and staff about the importance of their work. “Educational research says that ‘urban schools that successfully serve all of their students and close long-standing opportunity gaps are the ones that are filled with skilled educators who acknowledge, respect, and build on their students’ prior knowledges. They also engage with parents and families in authentic partnerships with no excuses and with high expectations for their students and for themselves,” said Blanford. “I recite those conditions intentionally this morning because I want you to remember them. If you’re an educator here, I want you to be working towards those outcomes every single day. If you’re a student, or a family member or a community partner of the Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, I want you to demand them. Every day.”
At RVLA MS--and on all Green Dot campuses--teachers and staff are dedicated to creating authentic and caring relationships with students. RVLA MS parent Perla Nobles has seen the impact such an environment has had on her son. “When my son comes home and tells me about a teacher who really listens, that ignites him to work harder,” said Nobles. “He actually feels that the teacher really cares.”
Teachers are just as enthusiastic as parents about the future of the RVLA MS community. “My hope for our students is that they gain the knowledge that is grade-level and beyond, and that they can take it home and process it with their parents,” said Larnel Baxter, a sixth and seventh grade math teacher at RVLA MS. “That’s my hope--for them to understand the content and share it with someone else.”
This year, all grades that RVLA serves (6th, 7th and 9th) are starting the 2018-19 school year in a brand new facility, with each grade on its own floor. The Green Dot team is in the process of developing an additional facility for RVLA High School to begin the 2020-2021 school year, so that the current building will eventually only house grades six through eight. RVLA MS Principal Walter Chen and RVLA HS Principal Arneidra Lloyd are happy with a good start to the school year for all RVLA students and families.