Project-based learning helps Community School senior excel

May 31, 2017
The Spokesman Review

Haylee Alvarado is the notable grad from the Community School.

Sometimes, all it takes for a student to shine is finding a place to belong. For senior Haylee Alvarado, that place was The Community School.

Project-based learning is at the heart of the school’s instructional approach, and Alvarado was sold on it even before she fully understood what that meant.

“I got something about the Community School in the mail during eighth grade,” she said, “and after some students and teachers made a presentation, I knew right then that I had to go there. Especially when students talked about their experiences here, I knew that I wanted to have that same experience.

“Both of my older sisters went to North Central, but I didn’t think that the traditional six-period, class-to-class system was going to be the best fit for me. I was nervous about breaking away from my friends, but when I went to the TCS orientation, it seemed that everyone there would be my friend. Everyone was getting to know each other, nobody was excluded, and it was easy to just go up to anyone.”

Alvarado has thrived there. Her GPA is near 3.5, and during her senior year she has split her days between TCS and Spokane Falls Community College in the Running Start program. She’ll be attending Whitworth University next year, majoring in psychology and hoping to become a middle school counselor.

Her advisory teacher, Sara Reijonen, has known Alvarado since her freshman year and has been impressed from the beginning by her passion.

“From Day 1, Haylee’s worked on what she needed to do to be a counselor. She knew that here at The Community School she could explore her interest around her work, and she’s matured from being quiet and shy into a leader who seeks every opportunity for personal growth. She is open to feedback from both her peers and her teachers, and she has developed the ability to advocate for herself when she needs to.”

When Alvarado looks back at the past four years, she sees some of the changes that Reijonen describes.

“I’ve grown a lot socially,” she said. “I was kind of in a shell at the start of my freshman year, but I found a best friend who is the opposite of me. She pulled me out of my shell, and I’ve met a lot of people since then. I’m kind of a social butterfly now.

“It was scary for a while, but I wasn’t the only person who felt like that, and I started to connect with other kids like me. We sat at the same tables, worked together and gradually became friends.”

Whitworth will be another brand-new experience, but Alvarado feels equipped to take on the unfamiliar once again.

“I’ve learned in the last four years that I can do anything I put my mind to. TCS offers support and help in a way that bigger schools can’t do. People here helped me to make connections and let me know right away that I was welcome. That’s why I want to be a counselor – to make that kind of a difference in someone’s life.”

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