The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

WHS strives to provide widespread curriculum


January 22, 2015

If Principal Stephanie Leitz is anyone to go by, administrators and staff are continually striving at Wahkiakum High School to provide students with a quality education and prepare them for what follows.

For some students, that includes college. Over the years, Wahkiakum students have been accepted at many institutions of higher learning all over the northwest and beyond. They’ve traveled to Washington State University, the University of Washington, Pacific Lutheran University, the University of Portland, Whitworth, Willamette, Gonzaga, Seattle Pacific University, Western Washington University, Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University.

They’ve gone farther. Northwestern University in Chicago. Cornell University. UCLA. Harvard.

The list goes on. Sadly, the rumor that Wahkiakum students can’t get into good colleges persists.

Regardless of gossip, administrators and staff are doing everything they can to provide every opportunity to the students that they would get somewhere else.

Honors classes have become regular offerings. This summer, English teacher Audrey Petterson, who taught English courses at LCC for several years, along with math and science teacher, Colonel Michele Haberlach will receive Advanced Placement training so juniors and seniors can take AP classes in those subjects.

The school is working alongside Lower Columbia College to implement a program called “College in the High School.” When students complete their english courses, they will be awarded college credit. With Petterson’s experience, students will have an understanding of what skills will be expected of them at college.

Wahkiakum may have an opportunity to join WSU-Vancouver to test river water in a practical environmental science project. The project will include three schools along the Columbia and will culminate in a science symposium where students will share what they’ve learned over the course of the project.

Students in Jeff Rooklidge’s honors science course will read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” alongside students in Audrey Petterson’s honors English class this year. They will discuss the biology and the ethical issues raised in the true story of Lack’s unlikely and uninformed contribution to science.

Presentation skills are honed in every class. There is an art class, band and a school choir. Students are trained in Microsoft and even write a little computer code. German and Spanish language classes are offered. Students have access to laptops, desktops and Chomebooks. With the recent passing of the security and technology levy, the district will soon be able to update their systems.

A curious student can turn to online learning if they want to take an elective not offered at the school. In the past students have taken online classes in Japanese, sound engineering, creative writing and psychology. This year, one student is studying Latin.

There are classes in robotics and food science because students spoke up.

“Don’t tell me what we don’t have,” Leitz tells students. “Tell me what you want.”

A health care advocate program was set up after Leitz learned of a similar program at Kelso High School.

“We have three kids working with Public Health Nurse Denelle Barlow at Health and Human Services. The high school, along with HHS and LCC are training students to be community health care advocates,” Leitz said. “They had to interview for their position. They meet regularly and they get a stipend. These are students that want to be doctors or nurses or are interested in the medical field. They do projects that are health related at the school. It might be a flu shot clinic or a lesson on healthy eating or birth control. Something they feel that kids don’t know enough about.”

Another student has an internship at the Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce.

“I would like to see more of those partnerships,” Leitz said. “We need to allow kids to be exposed to all kinds of career opportunities.”

This includes trades. Voc Ag teacher Kyle Hurley has worked closely with LCC so that his welding students meet industry standards.

This spring Wahkiakum High School hopes to enjoy a visit from the Seattle Shakespeare Company. The company will offer three workshops on the first day of their visit and perform Macbeth on the second. Leitz is trying to figure out how to secure funds for the program now.

“We want our kids to be competitive,” Leitz said. “We want them to be successful. We want them to leave here and be able to go to a college or a university or trade school and have the same foundational skills and have some of the same experiences they might have had at a bigger school. My hope, my dream, is that our students could feel like this was a safe place, that they could get what they needed and that people cared about them.”

The constant lot of an educator is the assessment. Assessment of students capabilities, assessment of their growth, teacher evaluations.

“They’re all growth models,” Leitz said. “With a growth model also comes that idea that you are never done. Never. You set goals, you reach them, you set new goals. You can always improve. You can always find something you’re not good at and could be better at. I think that’s okay. I think that’s what life is about.”

“How do we make it happen,” she wonders. “I’m always asking questions.”


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