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It’s 3:15 p.m. Students at most middle schools have headed home by now. But First Creek Middle School is buzzing. In one classroom, a former mayor of Tacoma holds up a collage of photographs of groundbreaking pilots, from the first all-black female crew to a 16 year old girl attempting to fly across the country.
“They persevered. They didn’t let the fact that they were of color or that they were female get in their way,” the ex-mayor said.
In an art room, kids mix colors as they concentrate on painting canvases. Other students huddle with tutors in the library, learn peace-building strategies in a classroom or practice cooking in the kitchen of the teacher lounge.
The cooking classes teach students how to make quick, easy recipes they can cook for themselves or siblings. Teachers bring in unfamiliar food to introduce new flavors and ethnic cooking. (Brie cheese and fettuccine noodles are a hit.)
“This school is the hub of our community,” said Co-Principal Rebecca Owens. “It’s a place where you learn, you get food, you get your soul filled with hobbies, life skills and sports.”
First Creek spearheaded the creation of the community school model. It partners with the YMCA, which coordinates multiple Tacoma support service providers and runs the “Eagle Center,” offering academic tutoring, student enrichment clubs, mentoring programs, drug and alcohol counseling, mental health services and parent support groups.
The program posts impressive results, which earned First Creek designation by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction as one of Washington’s most innovative schools. Since the 2011-2012 school year, the GPA of students participating in the Eagle Center rose 55 percent and is above the overall student body average. Attendance rates are higher and discipline lower for participating students.
“The after-school touch provides social and emotional support that take away those barriers to learning,” said Fahren Johnson, YMCA coordinator of the Eagle Center.
The holistic approach is drawing families. Candace Graves, whose daughter attends First Creek, is so impressed with the attention her daughter receives – including adult mentoring in the Ladies First program – that she chose to work at the school.
“I had other job offers, but I wanted to work here because I love it,” she said. “The principals and staff care about the community and are involved. It’s good for my daughter to be around positive women role models in the community.”
In addition to Eagle Center’s services, First Creek pioneers other creative approaches:
• School runs for an extra half-hour Monday through Thursday, providing two extra hours of instruction weekly.
• In 2015, students can stay at school for an extra month after school officially ends in June for academic support programs and Eagle Center enrichment activities.
• Sixth-grade students follow a unique program to integrate them into middle school life. Students have only two core teachers, allowing them to form close relationships with teachers and bridge the gap between elementary and middle school
Get to know First Creek
Innovation Model: The 360 wrap-around approach aims to provide a range of social services to students and their families. The goal is remove obstacles to student achievement and provide central point for services that include mental health counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, mentor groups and college preparatory programs.
Students best served: The programs are available to any First Creek student.
Grades: Sixth through Eighth
Teacher training: Teachers and staff are aware of the services and refer students as needed.
School report card
School Web site
Special clubs and after-school programs: Athletics • 21st Century Eagle's Nest • Comprehensive Health Services • Ladies First • MIP - Male Improvement Project • TOP - Teen Outreach Program • Trio - college bound preparatory program • Write@253 • YMCA Recreation / Visual Arts.
Related links:First Creek Middle School
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