Alternative environment nurtures Hanes’ creativity

Jacob Hanes stops for a photo in front of a wall mural at M.E.A.D. High School on April 25. (Christopher Anderson)
Jacob Hanes stops for a photo in front of a wall mural at M.E.A.D. High School on April 25. (Christopher Anderson)

Student found niche at M.E.A.D.

For many kids, middle school can be an unpleasant experience. For Jacob Hanes it was horrifying. He lived in Tennessee at the time, and the intelligent, articulate student became a frequent target of harassment and bullying.

“If you weren’t white, Baptist, straight or Republican, you weren’t wanted there,” Hanes said. “Every day I was attacked by other students. I’d come home with black eyes.”

Though bright, he found it impossible to concentrate on schoolwork. The unreasonableness of the school rules galled him. For instance, he was suspended for having a pierced ear, even though the student handbook allowed it. “The principal said it was only for girls,” Hanes said.

When he moved to Spokane with his family, he hoped to find a more tolerant learning environment. He found that and more at M.E.A.D. (Mead Education Alternative Division) High School.

Teacher Curtis Barville said, “Jacob came to our school in 10th grade. He was kind of a square peg in a round hole. He was the nail that stood up, and he felt like he was getting hammered.”

The once-reluctant student is now the first person at school each morning and the last student to leave each afternoon. “This is a place where it was safe for him to be himself,” said Barville.

Two years ago, Hanes was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. The diagnosis explained why Hanes felt off-balance and out of sync among his peers. “It’s difficult being socially awkward,” he admitted. “But here (at M.E.A.D.) I’ve actually made friends.”

Barville notes Hanes’ “strong, independent voice.” Within the nurturing environment of the school, Hanes has learned to temper his passion and to communicate more effectively with his peers.

The change amazed Barville. “Suddenly, from constantly being in disputes, he was able to have pleasant conversations.”

Hanes now understands that the things he loves to debate aren’t always interesting to other teens. “Politics, news and religion can be boring to most students,” he said.

As his social comfort level increased, so did his grades. Barville said Hanes is a stellar student who loves reading and writing. He especially enjoys reading true crime and suspense novels, and he spends hours each day writing.

“I have a creative imagination and I like to write mysteries and survival stories,” he said.

After graduation, he plans to work and attend college. He wants to pursue a degree in forensics or criminal psychology.

Barville said he will miss seeing Hanes’ bright smile first thing each morning. “Jacob has a certain magic about him,” he said. “He’s got a big heart space.”

And Hanes offers hope to others who’ve endured bullying. “It’s temporary,” he said. “Bullying makes you feel like crap, but eventually it goes away.”

His advice to other students is simple: “Be who you want to be, and stand up for who you are!”

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