A new location means a larger, better-quality space for the staff and students of Sumner School District’s alternative education program, Elhi Hill High School.
City and school district officials gathered at ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 3 to celebrate the new space on 802 Alder Avenue, which Elhi Hill now shares with a general education program called the Academy.
“It’s beyond our wildest dreams,” said Gina Longland, principal of the Elhi Hill High School Program. “This building is amazing.”
Launched in 2012, the Elhi Hill program is tailored to help students achieve their high school diplomas or change their academic trajectories to follow their own routes.
“The (program) isn’t like the regular school system,” said Carol Stumpf, an art, history and English teacher at Elhi Hill. “But (our students) still have to get their assignments graded and discuss them with us.”
Formerly a Union Bank, the new building has two floors complete with classrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, a baby room and an outdoor Ping-Pong court and basketball hoop.
Elhi Hill’s former location was at a multipurpose building near the Sumner library. The city plans to demolish this building, which was not suitable for the program for many reasons — in particular, a leaky roof, said Longland.
“The problem with that building was that it rained in on us,” Longland said. “There were bugs and mold — it was just crazy. This was by far the best move, in that (the new building) is clean, it looks great, and it has a wonderful vibe here.”
Both Longland and students agree that the building, which is across the street from the Sumner Police Department and Sumner City Hall, is a better location.
Seth Jenks, a 17-year-old student that joined the Elhi Hill program from Sumner High School in 2015, prefers the new location over the old one.
“There’s a lot less traffic. It’s kind of a more quiet area,” he said. “It makes it easier to work.”
Jenni Redd, another student that the program took in after four of her previous high schools didn’t give her class credits, agrees.
“It’s been really good. I love it here. I love how relaxed it is,” said Redd, 18. “It’s a lot more open, and there’s a lot more space to move around.”
The problem with that building was that it rained in on us. There were bugs and mold — it was just crazy. This was by far the best move in that (the new building) is clean, it looks great, and it has a wonderful vibe here.
Gina Longland, principal of the Elhi Hill High School program
The program used to serve only 26 students with one teacher in a single room. Now, 100 students and 12 staff members, ranging from teachers to paraeducators to mental health counselors, are constantly moving in and out of the Elhi Hill building.
The students at Elhi Hill get one-on-one help from their teachers every day.
“Our teachers aren’t just teachers,” said Roman Ruiz, an 18-year-old student. “They’re like friends to us, too.”
Elhi Hill classes, which are split into two morning and evening sessions, take place on the main floor of the building.
The Academy classes are held on the second floor. The Academy helps high school students overcome social, emotional and mental health obstacles to achieve in school, and follows Sumner High School’s bell schedule, complete with a shuttle to bring them back and forth.
Academy students used to take classes at both Sumner High School and Bonney Lake High School. The move to the new location brought Academy and Elhi Hill students together for the first time.
There’s a lot less traffic. It’s kind of a more quiet area. It makes it easier to work.
Seth Jenk, student at Elhi Hill
On breaks, the students mingle with each other, often holding Ping-Pong matches in the outside space in the back of the building. There’s also a basketball hoop that Longland says no longer needs to be taken inside for fear of being stolen.
The community comes together at Elhi Hill, where Sumner police officers often drop by to play Ping-Pong, basketball and remote control cars with students. Saint Andrew’s Emmanuel Food Pantry provides food for the students, while Northwood Baptist Church supports them with scholarships and basic necessities.
“We have some of the best kids in the district we’re able to serve,” Longland said. “We’re surrounded by an amazing community.”
Elhi Hill has its own mascot — a phoenix — with school colors blue and purple to represent the Bonney Lake and Sumner partnership. The students chose the colors themselves.
“One of the things I love about Elhi Hill is that you can sit two students beside each other and neither one of them will have the same story,” Longland said. “They’re such good kids.”