Education on the Edge Part 1: Superintendent Discussion - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Education on the Edge Part 1: Superintendent Discussion

Posted: Updated:

MATTAWA, WA - A local school district is overcoming obstacles virtually no other school district in the state of Washington has to face, with the highest rate of 'English as a second language' students.

So many kids who attend qualify for free and reduced lunch that is offered to everyone for free. The town is so far off the beaten path that teachers and staff have to travel in from miles away to work.

Every day this week, reporter Rex Carlin will bring you Education on the Edge from Mattawa. 

At first glance, Wahluke Junior High looks like your average school in Anywhere, America. In reality, it's anything but. Superintendent Aaron Chavez runs possibly the most unique school district the state of Washington has to offer, and with that uniqueness comes an array of challenges on a daily basis...starting with simply staffing the district.

"We have staff that come all over the state, really," said Chavez. "They come from Ellensburg, they come from the Tri-Cities, they come from Moses Lake, and they all come here to help the community's children."

There isn't much in the way of housing in or anywhere near Mattawa, making it extremely tough to recruit teachers to the district. But the next reality for Chavez is another, bigger obstacle the district faces every day: most of the students are in some stage of still learning to speak English.

"We also created something called The Academy, which is something that we really help some of our students, a lot of our students," Chavez said. "Over 60% are still learning the English language, so we really give them some intense support learning the English language, and learning math and reading as well."

The Academy and its instructors go above and beyond to make sure students are still learning the English language process. They even make home visits with the families during the school year to become another part of their students' lives outside of school as well.

But there's yet another obstacle the district that most school districts don't even have to think about: migrant families heading south for seasonal work and taking their kids with them.

"They'll go during the winter months," said Chavez. "They'll either go to Mexico or they'll go down to California. What they'll do is they'll un-enroll from here, this school district, and hopefully they enroll in a district down there. Sometimes they don't, they don't enroll, so when they return, there's that gap."

Chavez says the students that leave with their parents but stay enrolled at Wahluke while they're gone can keep the iPad issued to them by the district - donated as part of an Apple grant - to take with them while they're in California. The school district will give them academic programs they can use on the iPads, like Reading-Plus.

If it seems like Chavez and the Wahluke staff are constantly putting out fires, it's because they are. But he says the students there, all with different stories, make everything worth it.

"This is home, yeah, they've built relationships with their teachers, they've built relationships with their principals," Chavez said. "So they come here, and hopefully...and I really believe and have faith that we're making connections, building relationships with these kids."

We asked Superintendent Chavez if the students look for stability at their school when they may not have that stability at home.

"I think so," he responded. "We are 100% poverty, free and reduced lunch. We have a lot of students that this is where they come and they know they're going to be loved. They know that their teachers are going to put their arms around them and look out for them and make sure that they're learning what they need to learn. They come here and they know they're going to get fed in the morning and they're going to get lunch and they're going to be able to see their friends and family and it's a special thing."

For the next Education on the Edge segment, click here:

Education on the Edge Part 2: Interactive Teaching.