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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Venture High School: Izik Hicks: ‘Failure isn’t failure, but an opportunity to learn’

Izik Hicks, Venture High School
By Joe Everson For The Spokesman-Review

It would take a book to describe all the various twists and turns that have led Venture High School’s Izik Hicks to graduation, so only a few of the most notable will have to do.

Hicks has lived in at least 14 homes in his 19 years, including with parents, great-grandparents, foster parents and friends. He estimates that when he was 14, he moved nine times in one year. He and his sister were separated when he was 2 years old, but now talk daily. He has ADHD and dyslexia. He dropped out for a year during high school, living in his van and working, then returned for his senior year last fall.

But amid all the difficult, sometimes traumatic, moments, Hicks has found silver linings as he became single-minded in his pursuit of a diploma, and a better life.

“I was determined not to let 6-year-old me down,” he said. “Instability was not a great thing, obviously, but I’ve lived with all sorts of different people, and that has opened my eyes to how similar people are, and showed me where I wanted to be and how to get there.

“The foster system failed me deeply, and I still suffer trauma from that time. I was in a shelter home for traumatized kids at 5 years old, but by 6 I had learned to navigate my own life. I told myself that I needed to develop rules for myself and stay away from drugs. The high point of that time was when my great-grandparents adopted me and I lived with them from 6 to 11.”

After Hicks’ great-grandfather died, he received a letter from his mother, who was doing well at the time. He lived with her for several years, but when that didn’t work out, he moved randomly between Plains, Montana, and Coeur d’Alene, often without any notice or any of his possessions.

He spent his first two years of high school at Coeur d’Alene High School, where his interest in theater and acting class “gave me something to hold onto.” But he was skipping other classes, losing hope and credits until a friend told him about Venture, an alternative school with a focus on career and college preparedness.

“I skyrocketed right away at Venture,” he said. “The way my teachers explained things made sense and I got pointers on what to improve in my work. Classes there are outcome-based, so I get the chance to do things until I get them right.”

It was also at Venture that he met Rachelle Smotherman and Kevin Mahoney. Smotherman is a counselor at Venture and Mahoney is Hicks’ senior adviser, and both have worked closely with him. Smotherman connected him with Safety Net, a program that helps kids who have aged out of the foster system, and Mahoney helped him make a contact for his senior project, which eventually led to an apprenticeship and a 50-hour workweek detailing cars.

“Izik has shown incredible resilience and determination,” Smotherman wrote. “He’s been committed to finishing high school without the support that most students have, and while working to support himself. I know that he will have an amazing, purposeful future.”

Hicks now has an apartment with two roommates, and will continue to work full-time this fall. He also will continue his gig as a clown at Scarywood, in his fourth year there.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that failure isn’t failure, but an opportunity to learn. The only failure is giving up. My definition of grit is setting my mind on my goals, and recognizing that with time and patience, I’ll get there.”