EVERETT — For nearly two decades, the small school on the corner of California Street and Hoyt Avenue in downtown Everett has helped some of Snohomish County’s most troubled teens get an education.
Many of the students had criminal records; others had rough home lives, drug addictions and learning disabilities. One common denominator is few have had much success at traditional high schools.
The Northwest Regional Learning Center is a place where adult compassion, a second chance and hot meals reel in teens, many of whom have been expelled elsewhere.
It’s like “an ‘alternative’ alternative high school,” said Cathy Hawes, the school’s director.
With its lease expiring, the center is closing its doors in Everett. Plans are to open in Shoreline next fall.
The space it now occupies will be the new home for Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center, which brings together people in a variety of fields to help children become healthy and bring abusers to justice. Each year Dawson Place sees about 650 children who may have been abused.
On Friday, the Northwest Regional Learning Center’s last graduating class in Everett — all nine of them — received their high school diplomas before a large audience in the school’s kitchen. Many students said they never would have had a chance otherwise.
Rachel Duren, 17, said she is a different person than the freshman who was kicked out of Everett High School after taking a knife to school with anger and a grudge. She said the center and its supportive staff helped her stay sober for the past three years.
“The key thing is they have worked with me,” she said. “Other regular schools, they can’t take much time to focus on one individual. I have learned patience and self control.”
Fellow graduate Eddie Leafstedt, 19, who wore a suit and tie beneath his robes, said he got what he deserved when he was expelled from Lakewood High School for his recurring bad behavior.
“I had always been a troublemaker in school,” he said. “I never liked it. This is the only school I have ever liked.”
Leafstedt spent several months after he first arrived working one on one with a teacher in a small independent learning classroom.
At first, Leafstedt wouldn’t talk. Then, he would stop his work in mid-task. His teacher, Steve McLeod, finally realized Leafstedt simply wasn’t comfortable asking for help. He devised a system where Leafstedt could put a piece of tape on his desk and McLeod would stop by his desk.
Once Leafstedt grew comfortable with the school, he opened up, became quite social and applied himself to his learning. He was able to catch up after being far behind on credits. The school helped him accomplish what he once thought impossible.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here on graduation day,” he said. “I would have been held back many more years.”
In the weeks and months ahead, the learning center will make the move south.
Jerry Jenkins is executive director of the Northwest Educational Service District, which oversees the regional learning center.
He said the program will share a campus with a school for middle and high school students with emotional and behavioral issues. Although on the same grounds, they will be separate schools.
Hawes, the learning center’s director, said she will miss the old building.
Hawes hopes the learning center can keep close ties with local organizations, such as the Assistance League of Everett, which have provided plenty of support to her students.
“It’s a special place and there are so many memories,” she said.
Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, email@example.com.