It didn’t take McKade Ford long to realize he’d found a home at Spokane Valley High School.
“I knew it was my kind of place on my first day of school,” he said. “The first three days of my freshman year we did team-building exercises together. It felt like a family. We were on a first-name basis with all of the teachers, everyone.”
The project-based alternative high school fit the way Ford learns best.
“This is how I learn,” he said. “I tried a traditional middle school and that didn’t work out for me. I don’t learn best when it’s about sitting down and listening to lectures.”
One of the first projects Ford embarked on as a freshman involved catapults.
“It was a science project where we had to design and build a launcher for eggs,” he said. “You had to launch the egg without breaking it.
“We built a 4-foot-tall trebuchet. Our teacher had an idea for what he wanted, but he let us go explore how to build it and make it better.”
This year Ford and some fellow students designed and built a bingo board for his Spanish class.
“It was a fun project,” he said. “We put together a list of words that we didn’t know. We had to learn them all and then we put them on the board and we played a game of bingo with them.”
Ford’s favorite accomplishment has been his work with the school’s leadership program. He helps lead orientation for new students – stepping in to lead that effort when a faculty member had to step aside.
“I love being a leader and I think I have a natural knack for it,” he said. “I became the facilitator for that program and we had 12 other students who were committed to helping create those team-building exercises.”
Part of Ford’s leadership style is to make sure the whole exercise is fun.
“That’s important to me – it has to be fun,” he said. “I don’t think I could stand to sit around for six hours and do something if there wasn’t some element of fun involved. It makes it all work that much better.”
Ford puts the same effort into helping out at a summer camp for the families of members of the Washington Air and Army National Guard.
“My family has a tradition with the Air National Guard – it’s kind of our family business,” he said. “My grandfather just retired from the Air Guard and my father and one of my aunts is still active in it.
“Working at the camp was kind of a way of giving back. I was given the opportunity to be a junior counselor there. Over six days we were helping these National Guard kids grow with the help of another adult counselor. It’s difficult sometimes to be in a military family, and we try to make things easier for that one week.”
Ford has already been sworn into the Air Guard himself, and he’s excited about heading off to basic training this summer in Texas, followed by technical school in Missouri.
“I love the way that the Air National Guard is more like a family,” he said. “It’s not like active duty military.”
After his initial investment in basic and technical training, Ford already has mapped out what he wants to accomplish with his own education.
“My plan once I get back is to enroll in the criminal justice program at Spokane Community College,” he said. “After that, I plan to transfer to Eastern Washington to finish getting my degree.
“In the end, I want to make a career for myself in that field, whether it’s as a local police officer, a federal marshal or with the FBI. That’s what I want to do.”