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Jan. 16, 2022

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Donation buys second portable classroom for Woodland’s TEAM high school

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Students work on computers in the existing TEAM High School portable in Woodland on Jan. 22.
Students work on computers in the existing TEAM High School portable in Woodland on Jan. 22. (Courtney Talak/The Daily News) Photo Gallery

LONGVIEW — When most students return to Woodland’s TEAM High School, it won’t seem roomier just because the chairs and tables are spaced out. The building really will be larger, thanks to a donation from the John Moffitt Charitable Foundation, and that’s given teachers room for their visions for the school.

The roughly $22,000 donation allowed the district’s alternative school to install a second portable building that will be used to offer specialized education, increase class offerings and provide free meals for TEAM’s students.

TEAM teacher Jillian Domingo said the extra space would be “huge” for kids and that she was grateful for the donation, which is the “biggest and most ambitious” improvement project the TEAM staff had taken on so far.

Since she started teaching at TEAM in 2015, there have been improvements like a quiet room for students with anxiety and a overhang on the front of the building to shelter students before school, but the extra space the new portable provides opens up many more possibilities, she said.

“Adding things like a lunch area and a P.E. area and a fitness area and an art studio, maybe a community garden, that’s a way to draw students in and make this a building to be proud of,” she said.

TEAM teacher Elizabeth Vallaire said while it’s her and Domingo’s goal to create a learning environment where students feel “excited to engage,” it’s difficult to do that without space.

“By adding on our building addition, we will be able to have an art studio for kids to get hands-on experience with photography, videography, graphic arts, crafts, painting and other visual arts,” she said.

The portable will be multipurpose, Vallaire said, as she also plans to use it as a music practice room. In the past, TEAM music classes have been mostly theory and history, with no space for a hands-on component.

“As a longtime musician myself, I know that the theory of music is not the part that inspires someone to play or write music,” Vallaire said. “Soon, our students will be able to learn about what scales look like on a piano keyboard, or how patterns repeat themselves when creating chords on guitar or ukulele. It’s the production of art and music that enraptures and motivates, and I’m thrilled that we will soon be able to offer that to our students.”

Another way the new space will help the staff support students is by adding a kitchen, so students can make meals and do science experiments.

Domingo said not only will the kitchen let them do more science experiments, but it will help them prepare meals for students. Already, she said, the two teachers have brought in slow-cooker meals for students and started a food pantry.

“Our goal is just whatever we can do for the kids,” Domingo said. “We have a lot of low-income and high-risk kids and when Liz and I started here the graduation rate was 13.9 percent. Our goal at the beginning was ‘how do we get these graduation rates up?’ And one way is to make TEAM a nice place to be and offer food so they have food when they come in.”

The graduation rate has certainly improved: TEAM’s four-year graduation rate has sped upward from 14.8 percent in 2014 to 58.5 percent in 2020, according to the state education website.

Even as enrollment doubled this year due to COVID-19, jumping from 63 students in the 2019-2020 school year to 159 in the 2020-2021 year, according to the state education website, the school’s goal is to have a four-year graduation rate at or above 70 percent by the end of the 2021 school year. That will require the extra space afforded by the portable.

Jake Hall, Woodland’s executive director of learning supports and alternatives and TEAM principal, said the staff is a big part of the school’s success.

“Our staff at TEAM works with students to show them that success can build upon success,” he said in the press release. “Students at TEAM develop self-confidence by having teachers who want them to be successful.”

Domingo said it was Hall who told her and Vallaire about the John Moffitt Charitable Foundation, and she credits him with being “really supportive of our dreams and making it nice for kids to be here.”

The school maintenance and facilities staff have also been “amazing” with getting the portable attached and working with the teachers’ vision for the space, she said.

The district will also build a concrete patio outside the building with picnic tables and overhang so students can take breaks outside regardless of the weather, the press release said.

Domingo said there’s currently not much for students do when they take a break at TEAM, besides hang out in front of the building or walk around the area.

“Neither of those options are supervised and neither is a desirable option, so it’s really important to me to have a covered area with lunch tables so they can sit outside and eat lunch and take a break from school,” she said.

In the future, Domingo said she’d love to also add a blacktop area with a basketball hoop, and Vallaire would like to see a community garden go in.

“We are building not just a more engaging school, but a more inclusive sense of community for our students,” Vallaire said. “We want them to want to come to school. We want them to be excited to come to school. And most of all, we want them to be proud of themselves and their educations.”

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