The community surrounding Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School is strong and diverse. The student body reflects that diversity-- roughly 95% are students of color, 75% receive free or reduced-priced lunch, and 40% of its students come from immigrant or refugee backgrounds.
In 2010, the school was on the brink of closure, with only 320 students remaining in a building built for 1,200, and this low enrollment was forcing the school to cut all but the most essential classes. Parents, concerned community members, teachers and the school district came together to develop a plan to resuscitate the school, and after much discussion, research, and exploration, they settled on implementing an International Baccalaureate Program in Ranier Beach High.
The community demanded that this program serve all students, with particular attention given to the neighborhood’s most underserved and marginalized communities. Today, all 11th and 12th grade students, including the large population of students receiving special ed services, take at least one IB class, and most take many more.
Since the implementation of IB and other academic supports, the student population has more than doubled, and the school has shown significant improvement by a number of other measures.
This would not be possible without the support and understanding of the community, so Rainier Beach has put together a unique community outreach program in partnership with some of the neighborhood’s many community based organizations. It created a position for a community outreach coordinator, who brings information sessions out of the school building to places parents already meet. In libraries, churches, mosques, community centers, and neighborhood businesses, the schools holds monthly “Community Cafes” where teachers deliver sample lessons and help parents understand how to help their students be successful in a challenging curriculum.
For its remarkable school turnaround based on valuing the community it serves, Ranier Beach High truly deserves to be called, a School of Opportunity.