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Alternative schools offer a broad Spectrum of opinions

KINGSTON & SUQUAMISH — For Robert Gumbs, a student at Lakewood, Washington’s Alternatives for Individuals school, the choice to leave his public high school was both one he wanted — and needed.

“I went to alternative school because I wasn’t doing very good in a regular school,” Gumbs said. “My school (now) has the atmosphere and the type of people I want to be around.”

Gumbs’ sentiments were echoed by many students from the four alternative schools that turned out for North Kitsap’s third annual Spectrum Community School human rights discussion and basketball tournament. The event, held Tuesday at both Spectrum and the Suquamish Tribal Center gymnasium, was attended by AI in Tacoma, ACES in Everett and BEST in Kirkland.

The gathering of schools gave the four basketball squads a chance to sit down in the morning and discuss their similarities and differences in a round-table human rights discussion. In the afternoon, the students donned their respective jerseys and hit the Suquamish hardwood for a hoop tournament.

For Spectrum Coach Bob Geballe, the event signifies a main difference — an advantage in his eyes — between large public high schools and small alternative schools.

“This is the time of year that high schools are gearing towards the state tournament,” Geballe said. “This emphasis is on competition and never on getting to know each other as human beings. This is a chance as alternative school students to get to know each other.”

The morning’s discussion revolved around the topics of respect, human rights and school pride.

Spectrum student Josh Saenz was vocal about his school’s ability to respect all students who attend the Kingston-based education center.

“You respect people for who they are,” he said. “The more you give them, the more you get back.”

Spectrum student Jenny Taylor, who serves on the school’s human rights board, asked the Tacoma and Everett alternative schools if they had their own student group for rights.

Neither team said they had such a thing — but both schools expressed an interest in starting one of their own.

The rights board has helped Spectrum to discourage fighting at the school, its members said, adding the school hasn’t had an incident of fisticuffs in two years. The establishment of a board especially piqued the interested of James Rivera, a student at ACES alternative school in Everett.

“Spectrum said they haven’t had any fights except for one and AI said they haven’t had one in years,” he said. “Us, we’ve had six this year.”

Rivera said he believes Spectrum also provides a good example of how alternative schools provide a family atmosphere for students, which has discouraged fighting.

“It seems like at Spectrum, everyone not only talks to each other but they were close. I like that,” he added.

Like Gumbs, Rivera became an alternative student when things didn’t work out at the regular public high school.

“I was lazy and didn’t do my work,” he said.

Since, the senior at ACES said he’s improved his GPA from an 0.5 to a 3.6. He credits his success to help from teachers.

“All the teachers are there for you,” he said.

During the human rights discussion, students of AI in Lakewood said they live by their schools’ motto, “Leave it at the door.” The school’s basketball team, made up mostly of African-Americans, said respecting the rights of others is an important aspect at their school.

“We come in with our ‘do rags and chains,” said AI student Chris Hooks. “Some people got their own style. And nobody speaks on it (at AI). You dress like you want to dress.”

David Nevarez, who coached basketball at all levels except alternative school for 23 years, came to coach at ACES five years ago. He said the discussion demonstrated the fact alternative schools are no longer the places to which administrators send “disciplinary problem” students.

“They realize that even though they’re at an alternative school, they’re there because there’s a different type of learning for this type of school,” he said.

For Geballe, the link formed between different alternative school students transcends cultural differences.

“(Alternative students) recognize that they’ve all felt ostracized in their lives and they see that as a bond,” he said.

The basketball tournament saw Spectrum and AI battle to the finals, with the team from Lakewood prevailing 53-41. After the game, students from all the schools continued to chat, congregating for a taco feed sponsored by the Suquamish Tribe.

Spectrum’s Saenz and AI’s Gumbs sat together, discussing the finer points of alternative school life.

“(The other alternative schools are) about the same as us, really,” Saenz said. “We come down here and there’s no problems between nobody,” Gumbs said. “We’re all cool with each other — it’s a good chemistry.”

The pair talked about when they left regular high school and their plans for the future — Saenz’s plans to become a chef, Gumbs a medical assistant.

Both said they are happy with their choice of attending their respective schools.

“Alternative school turned my life around, that’s for sure,” Saenz said.

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