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News >  K-12 education

North Star School: Eli Watson used alternative education as a boost for college

Eli Watson, North Star High School prepared for college with assistance from ALE, from North Star.  (Courtesy)
Eli Watson, North Star High School prepared for college with assistance from ALE, from North Star. (Courtesy)
By Joe Everson For the Spokesman-Review

Everyone who does not know what an “alternative learning experience” is, raise your hand. North Star School senior Eli Watson is about to give you a lesson.

Eli has been enrolled at North Star since seventh grade, but before that was enrolled in another alternative program.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the Mead School District’s website regarding North Star: “North Star is an Alternative Learning Experience (ALE), a public-education option where some or all of the instruction is delivered outside of a regular classroom schedule.”

“North Star is a home-link program with extracurricular options,” Watson said. “It’s for homeschool students who want interaction and connection with students and teachers, and to have the opportunity for other activities as well.”

In Watson’s case, that has meant, at various times, participation in archery, basketball, and chess. A North Star mentor teacher meets with each student monthly, and there is also the opportunity to sign up for in-person courses.

“I’ve really enjoyed my teachers,” he said. “I’ve been able to get to know them on a personal level. The teachers here are very versatile, and many of them teach several different subjects. Math and writing labs are always available, and there is a teacher specifically for math and science.”

During the past two years, though, Watson hasn’t spent a great deal of time on campus. During his junior year, he was enrolled at the Spokane NEWTech Skill Center and as a senior he has been enrolled in the Community Colleges of Spokane Running Start program.

At NEWTech, he took classes in the Animation and Special Effects program, which was a logical step forward from one of his self-taught hobbies, stop-motion animation. You can look it up, but basically it is the art of making short motion pictures through single-frame photography, a skill that Watson learned from YouTube videos from the time he was 12 years old.

He is also a skilled archer, having taken one course at North Star and practicing during his free time at home.

“My uncle got me into archery a long time ago,” he said. “Its appeal for me is that it helps me to get a focused mindset. Once you get into it, you find a routine. When you steady your mind, you know how the arrow is going to fly.”

The fourth of five boys, Watson has lived on his family’s 10-acre Chattaroy farm for the last decade. His work there includes taking care of the animals, building fences, working a chainsaw, and doing whatever else needs to be done.

“My experience on the farm has taught me responsibility,” he said. “I’m so busy in all the parts of my life that I have to manage my time wisely. On the farm, you need to know what you’re doing and how long it’s going to take.”

His former teacher-counselor at North Star, Kerrie Rowland, agrees with Watson’s self-assessment:

“He has always been open to growth, and eager to learn. He perseveres with any task until he achieves success.”

He has been accepted into the graphic design program at Spokane Falls Community College, but doesn’t yet have a career plan in place.

He does know that this summer, he will work again at the Riverview Bible Camp, toiling in the kitchen, chopping wood, cleaning up the campus, and teaching archery.

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