June 4, 2009 in Washington Voices

Haylah Alkumeidy spreads her wings

Once-shy student blossomed at M.E.A.D.
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Alkumeidy holds a self-portrait that was part of an art class final.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Not all teens learn best while sitting at desks during a traditional six-hour school day. Haylah Alkumeidy is one of them.

When she transferred to M.E.A.D. (Mead Education Alternative Division) after her sophomore year, she was depressed, withdrawn and failing all her classes. “At the time, I didn’t know how to learn,” she said. “Sitting down for six hours wasn’t working. I felt frustrated. I felt like an idiot.”

However, lack of acumen wasn’t the problem. M.E.A.D teacher Carole Allen said, “She (Alkumeidy) is intelligent. She’s the most avid reader I’ve ever had.”

But feelings of alienation, compounded by Alkumeidy’s natural shyness, made school life a daily struggle. Her father is Saudi Arabian and she spent several years in that country, yet she didn’t feel at home. She said she felt like she “didn’t fit in anywhere. I’m not white, but I’m not Islamic.”

Her mother home-schooled her, but when they came to the States, Alkumeidy entered public school. “I wasn’t used to the whole social aspect of school,” she said.

Six days after school began, the unthinkable happened – the attack on the Twin Towers. Suddenly, in addition to being the “new kid,” other monikers were applied to her. “I was called names. I was the ‘terrorist’,” she said softly.

She struggled through middle school and high school, but was reluctant to change schools yet again to attend M.E.A.D. It turned out to be a good choice. “I started turning in work that was 100 percent,” she said. “And the more I did it, the more I wanted to do.”

Alkumeidy said she excelled because “I was able to choose what I wanted to learn about – what was important to me. I was able to step out and do creative things.” For example, “I’m Arabian,” she said. “I did a cultural study. I got to interview people from Saudi – talking to real people and tying together the past. It’s not just worksheets and answers.”

As she settled in at M.EA.D, she finally felt free enough to show her true colors. “She really turned it around,” said teacher Brooke Matson.

Allen described her student’s transformation this way: “It’s been a metamorphosis. She’s become a butterfly.”

This butterfly will be spreading her wings and flying to Kenya this summer. “I’m going to be working in an orphanage and helping create a water-drip irrigation system,” she said.

“If you make a difference you feel better about yourself.”

When she returns from Kenya, she plans to study pre-med at Spokane Community College. But her dreams aren’t confined to medicine. “I want to do something great – something that gives back. I don’t want to focus on one thing. I’d like to be everything I can.”

The once shy, soft-spoken Alkumeidy has finally found her voice.


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