Matt Driscoll

‘All they need is that belief.’ Student filmmakers help Bethel pass its school bond

By the time the Bethel School District’s $443 million construction bond bears fruit, the students at Bethel High School who championed its cause will be gone.

They’ll be off to college or wherever else life takes them when a new Bethel High School finally opens its doors.

That’s what makes the hours of effort students collectively put into rallying the community to support the bond — which will be the first the district has approved since 2006 — all the more noble.

Their dedication to the cause — including producing an unflinching documentary that helped expose many of Bethel High School’s failings, like overstuffed classrooms and buckets positioned inside to catch the rain — wasn’t about them.

It was about the future of the district, and the students who come next.

Even more important? It made a difference.

“I want to leave the school better than when I came here,” said 17-year-old Bethel High School senior Logan Rosell, one of the core contributors to the documentary.

All told, Rosell said, the film was aided by the efforts of some 30 students and took more than 100 hours to produce over the course of roughly a month.

While the students’ engagement and activism wasn’t limited to the film, it stands perhaps as the best and most measurable example of the impact they had in helping a district get over the supermajority hump.

Debuted in late January at the district’s Technology and Art Fair, the documentary came on the heels of the heartbreaking results of Bethel’s November 2018 school bond effort, which was defeated by a mere 307 votes.

The film attracted some 1,700 views on YouTube in just 48 hours. Additional editing required it to be taken down for a short time, but once it was reposted, it garnered more than 1,000 additional views in advance of Tuesday’s election.

As Thursday evening, nearly 24,000 votes had been tallied, with the 15,754 approving the bond giving it a 66 percent approval. According to the auditor’s office, all in-house ballots have been counted, and the only outstanding ballots left to tabulate are ones with valid postmarks that will show up by mail in the coming days.

In other words, it’s settled. While 66 percent approval is an overwhelming victory, with such a limited number of voters and such an unreasonably high bar set by the state’s nonsensical and outdated 60-percent supermajority requirement, it’s also true that every vote mattered.

The kids, it’s clear, helped sway at least a few of them.

“We heard from a number of community members who said they had historically voted no, who changed their vote this time around because of those students and their video,” said Bethel School District spokesman Douglas Boyles, praising the student-led effort.

“The 60-percent supermajority is a tall hurdle to overcome for school districts when it comes to passing School Construction Bonds. It not only requires a level of trust between the community and the district, but it also requires motivated parents and community members that are willing to step up and champion the bond in ways the district is unable to do during elections,” Boyles added.

Alayna Raymond, a 17-year-old senior at Bethel High School, acknowledged being “really disappointed and angry” when Bethel’s November 2018 school bond effort failed.

She channeled those feelings, she said, into work on the documentary, which she helped write.

More than anything, Raymond said, she wanted to give students a voice in the community conversation surrounding the school bond.

“I think what was really lacking (in November) was how the students were feeling about (the bond),” Raymond said. “It was motivation for me. Because we could make something, we could voice our opinion about it, and we could give people some more perspective.”

Asked whether she believes the documentary made a difference, Raymond said, “I think so.”

Beyond the new buildings and renovations the school bond will fund, Rosell believes the impact the bond’s passage is affirmation that the community really does care about its kids.

“It took a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of trying to find out that people actually do care, they just have a hard time expressing it,” Rosell said of the community surrounding Bethel, which he likened to a “reserved father” that “maybe has a hard time expressing himself.”

Rosell also hopes the effort will help inspire future students to become actively engaged

“Maybe (it will give students) the vague inkling that, yes, we can do it. We’re not sure why, but we feel like maybe in the past someone stepped up and did something,” Rosell said. “All they need is that belief.”

Thanks to Rosell and Raymond and other committed students, for the first time in a long time, there’s reason to believe.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.