They were told that Everett Community College, which hosts the Hi-Q competition season, was suspending the program. Indefinitely.
"We were shocked," said Sophomore Cassie Engvall, 15. "It was very important for us. It's not like any other program."
The students immediately started thinking up ways to save Hi-Q, a competition in which teams of high schoolers from Snohomish and Island counties answer questions on different subjects, including current events, Shakespeare and math.
The Hi-Q program was suspended in May, mainly because of loss of state funding and a dwindling number of high schools choosing to compete, said Amy Hammons, EvCC's high school relations coordinator and manager of the Hi-Q program.
"It was difficult decision for us," said Sandra Fuller-Hill, executive vice president of EvCC. "We really valued the experience it provided to students."
But Monroe's Hi-Q team isn't about to give up without a fight. They've created a Facebook group called "Save Hi-Q!" to spread the word, and hope to raise enough money for teams to compete again this year. That also includes seeking sponsorships from businesses in the community.
EvCC spent about $40,000 a year on the program, which paid for transportation, staff time and substitute teachers, among other things, Hammons said.
It is unclear whether students would need to raise that much, because some of the work in running the events could be done by volunteers.
"We are hoping to have it organized in time for this academic year," Cassie said.
Students plan to contact small businesses, as well as Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks, to see if they could sponsor the program, Cassie said.
They are also hoping to recruit more school districts to compete in Hi-Q, and are talking with EvCC staff to use Hi-Q equipment.
The goal is to get the necessary funding by December, which is when practice matches are held. The Hi-Q season starts in January and ends in March with a national competition.
Monroe High School Sophomore Juliann Yusko, 15, said Hi-Q helped build her confidence.
"Hi-Q helped me realize I was part of something important," Juliann said.
The extracurricular activity helped students from different backgrounds work together and create friendships, said 18-year-old Claire Chisholm, who graduated from Monroe High School in June and was a team member for three years.
Hi-Q helped her figure out that she was good at biology, so now she is majoring on that subject at the University of Washington.
"I realized I was happy reading chapter after chapter of biology terms," Chisholm said. "(In Hi-Q) you study something just because you enjoy studying, and because it's going to help your team."
The Hi-Q competition had been held by EvCC for at least a decade. Across the state, Hi-Q events were canceled over the years, leaving the EvCC competition as the last one.
Funding for Hi-Q came from the college, sponsors and the $200 team registration fee, which sometimes was waived because a school couldn't afford it.
For Cassie and the other students, Hi-Q isn't just about learning different subjects; it's a way to learn about oneself.
"You learn to trust yourself, to be dedicated, and how to deal with pressure," Cassie said.
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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