Community Education

Henderson Bay High School provides opportunity to all

Posted on December 2nd, 2022 By: Aspen Tsurkanu

Henderson Bay High School started out with very small beginnings, opening in 1972 on the property of the Civic Center on the Key Peninsula.

HBHS moved to the grounds of Peninsula High School in 1977 and made a third move over to the old Harbor Heights Elementary School building in 1992. Henderson Bay left the Harbor Heights Elementary building in December 2000 and moved under the roof of GHHS, occupying the bottom floor, and resumed classes in January of 2001.

In 2002, HBHS finally got its own building (at 8402 Skansie Ave.), which is where we are now.

The Henderson Bay High School leadership class.

How Henderson Bay worked way back when

It’s important to know that the progress from getting to our building was difficult. It took a lot of funding and students’ willingness to attend different locations considerably often for a school. The students who attended Henderson Bay at this time were technically sent there by the comprehensive high schools.

Henderson’s original intention was mainly credit recovery and providing resources and meetings for kids who struggled with substance and/or alcohol abuse. That’s how the school’s reputation began … being sent to an alternative school was seen as something to be ashamed of.

In the beginning, the students did a lot of learning off school grounds, experiencing things realistically and working at their own pace. These classes benefited students who weren’t doing well in a traditional school environment and allowed them to explore different ways of learning.

An example of this learning is teacher Jim Baker, who taught history and took these students around Washington and sometimes out of state to see the world and learn visually.

A gateway of opportunity

In 2007, it was decided to change from an “alternative” school to a more traditional way of doing things, still relaxed but with more traditional schedules and structure. The students themselves, despite the beginnings of what Henderson rooted from, greatly changed as well.

The school’s approach to education and the students who attend has shifted. Our school became a gateway of opportunity because of how quickly students can earn credits.

Because of our longer class periods, students take four classes each quarter, but each quarter counts as a semester when compared to a schedule at the comprehensive high schools. Students have the opportunity to earn eight credits each year.

HBHS students also have opportunities for amazing scholarships because there is less competition in the small environment.

As the years went on, more students started coming to Henderson Bay.  But this time, by choice.

After Henderson had made changes to its approach to learning in 2007,  students could choose to go to Henderson as an alternative to Peninsula or Gig Harbor high schools.

Sammy Joe and Justin discuss their experiences at Henderson Bay High School.

Two students’ experiences

We interviewed some students who graduated from Henderson — Justin and Sammy Joe — about their experiences and why they chose HBHS.

Justin came to Henderson because previously he hadn’t had the best experience at a bigger high school and needed more attention. Neither Justin nor Sammy Joe was struggling with education. Both needed more emotional support and personal attention because their home lives weren’t the best, and the bigger schools couldn’t offer that to them.

When Justin got to Henderson, he knew he was going to be successful, but he didn’t know exactly how to be. Greg Brashear, a teacher at HBHS, made Justin more comfortable at the school because they could relate to each other. A supportive teacher is what he needed, as well as one he could connect with easily and he really started to thrive.

“Henderson Bay High School was an amazing foundation for me,” Justin said. He also said that he had so many opportunities, especially because he was active in the Interact Club and Leadership class.

Being at Henderson and around so many diverse people with their own stories, Justin began to understand that everyone has their own story and way of learning things. He learned not to brush people off and how to be kinder to others.

Justin graduated from Henderson in 2017 and attended college for a while with help from scholarships. He later traveled and took a job at the corrections center at 19 years old. He bought a house at age 20, later sold it at a profit and moved on to work in real estate and car sales.

Supporting all students

Sammy Joe struggled with some substance abuse. She went to Peninsula High and said teachers there told her she wasn’t going to be successful. She didn’t feel supported emotionally, wasn’t enjoying school, and didn’t want to continue high school.

Sammy Joe was told she could have more success at Henderson Bay, so she decided to give it a try. Some friends judged her for going to Henderson, and some left the friendship entirely.

She described her first year as fairly negative. She rejected the help that was offered and was feeling stuck mentally.

Her second year was much more positive.  Sammy Joe wasn’t a bad student academically, but she needed to be in a better spot and Henderson offered the support she needed. When asked how this school has benefited her, Sammy said

“If it wasn’t for Henderson, I wouldn’t be here,” Sammy Joe said.  She ended up walking away with thousands in scholarships and extra credits.

Her favorite teacher was a man named Peter. His teaching style transformed her way of thinking and he supported her efforts.

She worked hard to get to where she needed. For her senior year, she started working on a passion project; she was big on learning about recycling and waste management. Sammy Joe planted a garden on the school grounds and made a compost bin with the help of the community. Because of this project she had over 1,000 hours of community service and helped the school’s garbage bill go down significantly.

Now, Sammy Joe is a manager of one of the biggest crystal shops in Washington and has been working there since it opened as a tiny shop. She’s currently on her way to opening her own business and shop.

She lives a calm life in Kent and still has some struggles but is working well with herself. When she graduated in 2015 she knew exactly what she wanted to do and has been thriving.

Henderson Bay now

Henderson Bay is no longer an alternative school, but continues to help students in its old ways. We still have alternative learning pathways and amazing opportunities for students. We have students representing our school as student reps on the School Board, along with Leadership and Interact. Students get eight credits a year, allowing those who want to graduate early.

Students who want to also go to a trade school can attend West Sound Tech in Bremerton part-time and can be shuttled from HBHS daily. They also get opportunities to do things like join local artists and paint murals, allowing them to build professional-style portfolios.

Students go on monthly field trips that can involve learning about history and exploring trade schools and different routes post-high school. Running Start is also provided and encouraged. If a student may need an ESA or service animal, that is accessible to them. Students also are able to have specialized schedules and can do online courses.

We have our own clubs but students may participate in theater and sports at the other high schools. We offer plenty of job opportunities for kids, and Henderson is always willing to help kids get on their feet.

Wellness Wednesdays

We have what we call all-school meetings on Wednesdays and call it ‘Wellness Wednesdays” so students can focus on what they need to do for a whole day and also experience clubs that morning.

At all-school meetings, we announce typical school events as well as celebrate each other. If someone gets a new job or maybe someone gets accepted into a new school, we all celebrate them. In a small environment with just 115 kids in the school, we are a close community so grades get along with each other and lift one another up.

Henderson Bay, despite its misconceptions, is a close-knit community that lifts each other up and despite its small and humble beginnings still has an amazing community of wonderful people. All these kids came together and helped the community as well as each other for years and gives an amazing opportunity to kids who need it. We are big on mental health and support those who need support, and accept people with open arms.

Thank you to Shannon Reagan, who helped me come up with this idea. Shannon is a former Henderson student who graduated in 2006.

As for Justin and Sammy Joe, their stories were incredible to listen to and I appreciate those who helped me put this paper together. Henderson is a close community, and what I hope from writing this is that at least a couple of people see Henderson as how it is now, and leave the bad misconceptions in the past.

From left, Amber Lucas, author Aspen Tsurkanu, Sammy Joe, Robin Malich and Justin Johnson.