Levy focus: Extracurriculars are vital to students

Levy focus: Extracurriculars are vital to students
Posted on 06/17/2019

Editor’s note: Tahoma uses levy dollars to help pay for positions and programs that the state and federal government do not fully fund. This article is the second in an ongoing, occasional series about the ways that levy dollars are spent in the district and how they contribute to the excellent education, safety and well-being of our students.

Student success is built on many things, including experiences outside the classroom. Establishing a connection to school through extracurricular activities can contribute greatly to a successful, high quality education.

Tahoma students have a wide array of extracurricular choices, including sports, drama, music, robotics, and other clubs and activities that are paid for primarily through local levy dollars.

The 2018-2019 budget includes $1,215,000 for extracurricular activities directly from levy funds, along with an additional $110,000 of pay-to-play, and some ASB (associated student body) and CTE (career technical education) funds.

Many students who participate in drama and theater classes and productions say that they’ve finally found a safe space and a sense of belonging, says teacher and director Melissa Bean. “Theatre kids tend to be some of the kindest and most accepting individuals on the planet,” Bean said. “Kids who haven’t been able to find their place find a ‘home’ in our PAC hallway.”

Theater not only offers the chance for connection and belonging -- for some students, it’s the primary reason they show up and attend. “I have many students who wouldn’t have stayed in school had they not been a part of the program. Being involved with drama and music was what actually got them to school,” she added.

Performing on stage (and building sets, stage managing and all the related tasks) helps students build many Future Ready skills, Bean said. “Ken Riggs (music teacher/director) and I have often talked about how ingrained the Future Ready skills are into what we do. In times past, when we’ve been asked to focus on one particular skill, it’s actually been a challenge, because the skills are so intertwined into our process,” she said. “In putting together a concert or a musical or play production, students are practicing literally every Future Ready skill, often without actually realizing it.”

Bean offered these examples:

  • Collaborative Teammate: Being a part of an ensemble, cast, or crew to make a production happen; without collaboration, it doesn’t happen.
    Community Contributor: Students are volunteering their time, whether through help with sets, costumes, technical elements, etc., to create our final product; in theater, we focus on creating a safe space and respectful community for all involved.
  • Complex Thinker: So many ways! How to make a set change happen seamlessly, how to approach character analysis, design work, any of the hundreds of little challenges that can pop up in a rehearsal process.
  • Conscientious Worker: Students have to work hard for a production to occur; since there is so much emphasis on team, every “cog in the machine” has to do their part on a deadline, otherwise, we’d never be able to make these large-scale productions happen.
  • Effective Communicator: Theater is all about communication, not only between actors, but between designers to the director, stage managers to their crew, actors and crew with each other. If communication didn’t occur, the overall vision of the team could not be executed.
  • Quality Producer: Our final product!
  • Responsible Decision-Maker: Emphasis on taking care of the voice and body, as well as mental and physical health; finding the balance to be a part of such a large-scale undertaking, but also keeping up with school, family, etc. Also, theater is live. If something goes wrong backstage, students have literally seconds to figure out a safe solution that will keep the show running (Strategic Problem-Solver).
  • Self-Directed Learner: So much of what we do is self-directed, particularly character work and making choices on stage and backstage. While I as a director can share my vision, I leave it to them to bring their own choices to their performance that align with that overall vision. Also, technically speaking, students are constantly having to adapt and learn new technologies, scene changes, quick changes, etc.

“I could go on for pages, but truly, being a part of a drama program (particularly a full-scale production) gives students the opportunity to practice every Future Ready skill,” Bean said. “It’s woven into everything we do. Most importantly, in my mind, however, the theater is a place where every student can feel safe and accepted.”

When Tahoma graduate Edwin Torres entered middle school, he hadn’t yet come across a sport that he truly enjoyed. A friend invited him to check out wrestling, a move that changed the course of Torres’ life.

Torres stuck with wrestling, although when he moved up to the high school level, he still didn’t have a clear idea of where he wanted to go in life.

“I was able to connect with my coach, Chris Feist,” Torres said. “He was one of those guys who would always be there for me. If you were struggling, he would bring you to the office or have you work in his classroom. He helped you as much as he could. He wasn’t afraid to let you know that he was there for you. He became kind of a mentor.”

Feist recalls the progress of a “shy and quiet middle school boy trying to figure a lot of things out.”

“Though he did not say much in those first few years, it was clear that he was more than our gentle giant and an all-state heavyweight wrestler; he became a team leader and a mentor of elementary school kids on our club team.” Feist said. “The little boys in our junior wrestling program flocked to Edwin. He could be found before and after practices taking time to coach them up on technique or just taking time to play with them.

Torres faced a number of struggles during his high school years, and Feist and his teammates were there to help and support him. That network of care didn’t end when Torres graduated in 2013 -- in fact, it may have even increased. Although he didn’t know where he wanted to end up, he did know that he wanted to continue learning.

“There was no money for college,” Torres recalled, but Feist and other coaches were there to help. They let others in the community know that Torres was the first in his family to attend college, and he was selected as the recipient of the Zach Lystedt Award and Scholarship, which offered $14,000 for his schooling. Torres attended Highline College, but was still trying to identify what direction his career would take.

Feist had a much stronger feeling about his path.

“I remember that right after graduation, we were on the way to a (wrestling) camp, and he was asking me what I wanted to do.” Torres recalled. “He said, ‘You know what I see in you? I see a teacher in you.’”

Torres disagreed, but Feist and others kept nudging him. In 2015, a paraeducator position opened up at Lake Wilderness Elementary and Torres decided to try working with Tahoma students. Pretty soon, he was hooked.

“I was like, this is a pretty fun gig,” he said. “They asked what I thought. I said, ‘This teaching thing is pretty fascinating.’”

Torres went back to school at Western Governor’s University, while continuing to work for the Tahoma School District. He recently earned his teaching degree and has accepted a position teaching fourth grade at Westwood Elementary in Enumclaw.

“One of my proudest moments as a coach and mentor was watching Edwin work toward his college degree in elementary education,” Feist said. “Mr. Edwin Torres is going to be an incredible teacher, coach, mentor and overall community contributor; he has greatness within him.”

Last summer, the Lystedt family asked to meet with him, and gave him an amazing surprise. They shared that he had followed through on their hopes for him, and that they wanted to gift him with another $14,000 to cover the remainder of his college education.

“Without wrestling, I would have never had a mentor like Feist,” Torres said. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for wrestling, I don’t think I would have gone down this path. … I learned how to be coachable, and that if you don’t work hard and try hard, you don’t know what is going to happen.”

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