An Alternative View of an Alternative School
If you’re a student at Peninsula High School or a parent of a student, chances are you’ve heard about Henderson Bay High School. Whether you have an accurate idea of what Henderson really is—that’s another story.
Now located near Gig Harbor High School, the original alternative school was located in Key Center and called Huloima Wehut (Hue-low-ma Way-hut), a Chinook jargon word meaning “a different way.”
Stereotypes about students who attend Henderson buzz through our hallways at Peninsula. Peninsula Principal Dave Goodwin, a former Henderson principal, said there are some common misconceptions.
“I think a lot of people think Henderson Bay is only for kids that are on drugs or girls who are pregnant,” Goodwin said. “That’s not the case. It serves all students.”
Henderson is a school of choice. This means students aren’t forced to go there; they choose to attend for a variety of reasons. Many students don’t realize that there are other options for school or have preconceived notions of Henderson that keep them from exploring it.
“We always had to overcome (misconceptions) with parents who were skeptical and had a perception of Henderson Bay based on a stereotype,” Goodwin said. “But once they visited the school and saw what was going on, they would almost always send their student there.”
For senior Annie Karamatic, transferring to Henderson after her first quarter of freshman year at Peninsula was a decision she made because of grades and anxiety.
“I was failing all my classes, even though I was trying my absolute best,” she said. “Every day, I’d eat outside alone because the amount of people stressed me out so bad. I used to leave class early to avoid all the crowds of people.”
Everyone’s reason for deciding to go to Henderson is unique. For most, the traditional large high school model isn’t a good fit, whether for personal reasons or because certain needs are being overlooked.
“Some (transfer to Henderson) for the same reasons as myself, others to get clean or just get their lives together entirely,” Karamatic said. “There are not even a lot of addicts, just kids who have been screwed by the school system and transgender students who couldn’t survive at normal high school because of the kids.
“It’s the only school I’ve ever been confident in,” she said. “The teachers will literally sit there until you figure it out and give you 100 percent—not to mention the emotional support.”
Brian Tovey, the current principal of Henderson, considers it a safe haven for students to thrive in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in larger high schools.
“It is a school for kids who feel lost in the big schools, who need a little bit different support and want to be who they are rather than what someone else wants them to be,” he said. “We have a recent graduate who had a baby but worked hard to graduate on time. Another recent graduate overcame a lot of personal and family obstacles to graduate.”
Henderson uses the same curriculum as both Peninsula and Gig Harbor high schools, but the school day looks a little different from that of the traditional high school setting.
“The difference is that the classes are a lot smaller, and you actually feel like you matter and that the teachers actually care about your success,” said Henderson senior Sarah Shaffer. “Two years in a row, I’ve achieved student of the month and it’s all because of the help I’ve gotten from such a motivating staff. I went from being pushed out and having all F’s, to being an A, B average student.
“I’m tired of people deeming our school to be the ‘druggie dropout school,’ because it really isn’t,” Shaffer said. “It’s a school of choice, and the school is really based around helping students succeed and giving them the extra chance to be themselves and get where they need to be in life. I couldn’t be happier to say that I’m a student here.”
Natalie Svinth is the senior managing editor of the Peninsula High School Outlook. Read more of her work and that of her colleagues at www.phsoutlook.com. Read The Henderson Pawz school newspaper at www.hpawz.com