Danielle Flinn likes making stuff, and at Riverpoint Academy, she has the tools.
Students at the alternative school in the Mead School District work together to solve real-world problems, diving into science, engineering and the humanities in classes such as biomechanics, and entrepreneurship and design.
In her inventioneering class, she wrote code and hooked up wires, controllers and motors to build a bubble machine.
But at Riverpoint, Flinn, 18, also has been building community. Home-schooled from fourth grade through the start of 11th grade, she’s flourished in the “brick-and-mortar” school.
“Academically, Danielle is one of our most accomplished students, and this shows in her grades and test scores,” Riverpoint Principal Moleena Harris wrote in an email. “But what makes Danielle exceptional beyond her academic credentials is that, in a nutshell, she pretty much runs our school.”
Flinn takes on extra responsibilities at school, serving as yearbook editor, helping out with the student-leadership group, and mentoring other students. She helps in quieter ways, too, Harris said. The principal once found Flinn washing dishes “just because they needed cleaning.” Then Harris found Flinn in a conference room, organizing a cabinet.
As a home-schooler whose family moved often, Flinn said, she enjoyed her curriculum and the freedom in her schedule. But part of her always wanted to return to a more traditional school, she said, partly because she felt like she was missing out on relationships with other kids.
Flinn was born in Spokane, but her family has lived in Idaho and South Dakota and moved around within Eastern Washington as her father, a pastor, accepted new positions. They moved closer to family in Spokane when Flinn and her brother were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. Flinn uses an insulin pump, which delivers a constant drip.
But in considering public school, she worried – would she make it as one among many? Riverpoint, now with 140 students, was small. Even so, she said, “I was like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy – the sudden demand to interact with people everywhere.’ ”
She’s grown, Flinn said, and the change has been good.
She’s emerged as a leader in group projects and extracurricular projects, especially the yearbook. She enjoys making assignments and keeping the big project organized. She likes looking through the photos the staff has made throughout the year of her new community in action.
Flinn said she planned to enroll in community college and transfer to a four-year university. She’s thought about studying business, combining those skills with writing and becoming an editor at a publishing company.
Where maybe, along with editing, she’ll end up washing the dishes. That time her principal found her cleaning up? It was about respect, Flinn said. The school microwave and refrigerator get gross, and she didn’t want the school secretary to be stuck cleaning them out.
“I want people to respect these people who are doing so much for them,” she said. “If they don’t, I can’t make them. I’m going to do what I can.”