Perseverance and optimism are vital for Mica Peak High School senior Zachary Andersen, who was homeless for nearly three years before moving to Spokane in 2013.
“I was optimistic. I wanted to get back into school, and I wanted to succeed,” Andersen said. “I knew that it was, basically, a really long road ahead of me.”
Andersen started at then-Barker High School in March 2013, finally finding a sense of stability when he and his mother moved in with his 32-year-old brother.
Originally from Georgia, Andersen’s mother moved him to “the border of being in the middle of nowhere” near Kent, Washington, after a 2006 divorce from his father. Although she had a bachelor’s degree in computer programming, Andersen’s mother was laid off while in Georgia and unable to find stable work in Washington.
“We ended up living in a trailer behind my aunt’s house for maybe a year,” Andersen said. “Then I completely lost interest and wanted to try home school or online school. We tried that and it ended up not working. Eventually, we just started moving all over the place, and I was just staying with friends every now and then.”
Andersen moved at least a dozen times from his arrival in Kent until he moved to Spokane.
“Everything that was going on at home was making it tremendously hard,” he said. “It’s hard to describe it. I mean I had a home. It was our trailer. But it wasn’t stable. There was a winter where we didn’t even have power.”
Andersen lacked friends and didn’t feel like he fit in as a result of constantly moving. He said instructors made it more difficult by picking favorites and misunderstanding his learning style.
But everything changed when he moved to Mica Peak, particularly after Andersen met his mentor, John Griffiths.
“Just being (at Mica Peak) for a few months put me in the right mindset,” he said.
The relaxed scheduling and experiential courses offered by the school suited Andersen’s personality and provided a platform for his leadership skills to bud.
“Motivation and perseverance came mostly from John (Griffiths), and being a leadership student and mentoring under him,” he said. “It was just really helpful. More helpful than I can probably express.”
Griffiths said the most difficult – and rewarding – part of teaching at an alternative school is pushing students who come from backgrounds similar to Andersen’s to be successful.
“It’s my 18th year teaching here, and I’m still hearing stories about kids in our program, and it shocks me how resilient they are,” Griffiths said. “Good teachers take that stuff home with them sometimes and that’s hard.”
Andersen was inspired by Griffiths’ perseverance in attaining an education, as he didn’t pass his teaching license test until his eighth attempt, after being allowed to take the exam without being timed. Despite the doubts of those around him, Griffiths got a near-perfect score.
Griffiths is the adviser of the leadership club that Andersen was invited to join. It was Andersen’s integrity that allowed him to excel through Mica Peak’s curriculum, Griffiths said.
“The forks in the road in your life are when things happen,” Griffiths said. “On the way you’ll have people who say you can’t do it.”
Like Griffiths, Andersen refuses to give up. He plans to attend Spokane Community College under the Toyota T-Ten program, stemming from a lifelong interest in cars.
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