A year and a half ago, Courtnay Harris was ready to throw in the towel. But when she began attending Eagle Peak School her second semester of junior year, her teachers and family witnessed a transformation.
“Eagle Peak is an alternative school for children who have behavioral problems, and I really liked it,” Harris said. “I went to U-Hi (University High )freshman, sophomore year and half of my junior year, and then Eagle Peak junior and senior year.”
Eagle Peak held 19-year-old Harris’ diploma so she could attend Mica Peak High School January-May 2017 before her June graduation ceremony. There, she volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and the Grocery Outlet. Harris also volunteers in the school’s kitchen, one of her favorite pastimes along with rock climbing, drawing and listening to music.
“Some days, we stay back and do Food for Thought, so we get the food from the food bank, put it in bags and deliver it to kids,” she said. “On Mondays, we stock the food bank on Broadway.”
Upon graduation, Harris hopes to work part time and attend Spokane Community College to begin her studies in psychology. Recently, her mental health counselor told Harris she should pursue a similar career and the conversation inspired her.
“I would love to be a school counselor at Eagle Peak someday, or somewhere like Passages [Family Support] where they help other kids who share the same struggles,” she said.
Harris was grateful for her transition to Eagle Peak after negative experiences and difficulty succeeding at University High.
“I had a lot of issues with teachers and attention (at U-Hi),” she said. “I was in this behavior class with the same teacher constantly, and we could tell that it didn’t work.”
Throughout her first three years of high school, Harris said she was bullied, which exacerbated her emotional and behavioral difficulties. Instead of using coping mechanisms, Harris said she would “act out” and struggled to process her emotions.
Her mother, Angela Townsend, said that freshman and sophomore years were “rocky,” but she saw a disturbing change in her daughter at the beginning of junior year. Harris began cutting her thighs and calves.
“She was severely depressed and always saying she wanted to commit suicide,” Townsend said. “And I was saying, ‘This isn’t my child. What’s going on?’ ”
Rachel Samaha, Harris’ favorite teacher and adviser at Eagle Peak, said she was a difficult student when she arrived. She did not follow directions, walked away from the classroom and shouted at teachers.
“She just wanted attention, and didn’t know how to get it,” Samaha said. “It took her a while to find her rhythm. Slowly, I think she realized she didn’t have to do those things.”
At Eagle Peak, Harris’ attitude changed for the better. Now she attends class regularly, enjoys her studies and spends time with friends who support her goals and growth. Townsend said she believes the school “brought her daughter back to her.”
“Eagle Peak gave me a child that I had and I raised,” Townsend said. “She is not this loud-mouthed, angry, bitter and out-of-control child that U-Hi labeled her to be.”
When Harris returned to school in the fall for her senior year, she had matured and completely changed, Samaha said. She described Harris as full of life and joy, kind, bubbly and an inspiration to other students.
“She changed, she could trust us, and she knew what to expect,” she said. “She just really buckled down and started to do her work. She just became the student that we didn’t want to leave.”
Harris credits her teachers with her growth. She realized they were “not her enemies,” but were helping her to use coping skills, complete schoolwork and take breaks when needed, she said.
“They gave me the courage to keep going, because I wanted to give up and I could have easily done it,” she said.
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