August 2023 Newsletter: Listening to students

Listening to students

Director’s Note

I can’t believe students are heading back to school already. Where did the time go? Just a few minutes ago, I could swear my son was starting kindergarten. Instead, we’re preparing for my son to start his senior year of high school, and despite all of my years in the education sector, this momma is not ready!

As students pour into school buildings again, we’re committed to following young people’s lead about the solutions they need to design their futures. We’ve spent time this summer listening to and learning from the Association of Washington Student Leaders, Washington Student Engagement Network, Act Six Scholars, and SEED Interns. However, our engagement with students will continue as we also understand how to make this learning actionable.

Throughout this newsletter, we highlight teachers and schools who are letting student voices shine. We’ll continue to make this a core focus of our updates as well, because our programs must meet students where they are.

Thank you,

Horizons, regional grants to support postsecondary enrollment

Apply for our Horizons regional grants

We recently launched a Request for Proposals to join Horizons, a regional grant program in Washington state.

  • Horizons will provide focused investments in regions that are ready to expand or scale programs to help more students transition from K-12 into postsecondary education.
  • We will select three regional partnerships through Horizons, with up to $5.4 million in funding – paired with technical assistance – for each partnership over three school years.
Horizons regional grants
Washington State Teacher of the Year Dana Miles

The WA teacher helping Deaf students navigate the world

To celebrate the Back to School season, Bill Gates recently sat down with Washington State Teacher of the Year Dana Miles. In his words, he “was blown away by her thoughtful, compassionate, and practical approach to teaching.”

What they discussed: Miles shared how she uses bus schedules, coffee orders, and dinner recipes to teach her students about self-advocacy.

  • At the Washington School for the Deaf, Miles teaches three classes that she says broadly focus on “Adulting 101.”
  • Her favorite is Work Experience, because it’s all about helping her students imagine their future after school.

Why it matters: Students who face additional barriers, like those Miles teaches, deserve the tools to overcome these barriers and design the future they want.

  • As Miles told Bill, “It is so critical for Deaf people to learn how to self-advocate, because often we are oppressed by so many barriers in our lives that we need to figure out how to overcome. Teachers have a responsibility to teach how to overcome those barriers.”
Meet the teacher helping Deaf students navigate the world
Thank you! You helped fund over $8 million in classroom supplies!

Helping WA teachers start the school year

On August 2, more than 39,000 donors helped fund projects on, supporting more than 24,000 teachers.

  • Combined with a 50% match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DonorsChoose raised $8 million for students nationwide!
  • That includes $160,000 that went to 450 projects supporting classrooms in Washington state.

Why it matters: Every teacher wants a classroom full of resources that help every student thrive, but due to inequitable funding they can’t always make that happen.

  • Teachers still spend an average of nearly $700 out of pocket on their classrooms and supplies each year.
  • We’re grateful for DonorsChoose and the support of donors who are helping so many teachers start the school year with the supplies they need.
DonorsChoose sees banner donation year with help from Gates Foundation and millions of small gifts
Quilcene School District, growing pathway options for students

Growing CTE programs in rural Washington

The Quilcene K-12 school on the Olympic Peninsula serves about 220 students. While this small size allows the school to build relationships with students, school leaders identified a big gap: there were limited Career & Technical (CTE) offerings.

  • The school primarily focused on culinary skills but wanted to offer additional CTE pathways connected to local jobs.
  • To address this, school leaders talked to students and local businesses.

What they heard: There was strong interest in agriculture-related pathways, so Quilcine hired Annetta Carey-Fuson, a teacher focused on agriculture mechanics and plant and animal science.

  • Students in Quilcene can now begin exploring agricultural mechanics as early as 7th grade. They even have a hydroponic system that grows vegetables the cafeteria uses!
  • In addition to sparking new passions, students are learning about local agriculture, construction, and maritime industries.

Why it matters: With limited staff and capacity, rural school districts can struggle to connect students with career pathways that meet their interests and local needs.

  • That’s a reason we’re exploring solutions that help more students from rural communities take the next step after high school.
  • Quilcine’s efforts show how rural schools can connect students to relevant, good-paying jobs.
Quilcene: Expanding opportunities in a rural district – Ready Washington

Yakima students learn how to fight fires

Ten Yakima students got an up-close look at what it takes to fight wildfires this summer – all thanks to a program that helps students earn school credit and explore job pathways.

  • The students saw how workers create fire lines and thin out a forest to make it more fire resistant.
  • Each student earned school credit and a $1,800 stipend.

Why it matters: Many students need to work and make money during the summer, and career-connected programs like this one allow them to do that while exploring future interests.

  • In the process, students learn about issues like wildfires that impact their communities.
  • Even if these students don’t become firefighters, they might be inspired to explore careers in conservation or forestry. That’s still a big win.
Future field work: Yakima students explore career opportunities in fighting fires
Tips: A college freshman to high school seniors: "A piece of advice I received about my career is to find someone (or people) who has the job that you aspire to have and ask them how they got where they are. Then you get an idea of the paths they've taken and what you'd like to do."

Tips for rising seniors

As Western Washington University student Arianna Caiceros knows, because she lived it a couple of years ago, your senior year in high school is equal parts fun and overwhelming.

  • To help with that overwhelming part, Arianna reached out to ask seniors from her high school in Richland what lessons they learned in the 2022-23 school year.
  • She turned their advice into an infographic for Ready Washington.

What she found: Arianna’s seven tips include taking time to rest and getting letters of recommendation by the end of your junior year to avoid a last-minute scramble.

Why it matters: Some seniors check out during a critical period in their life because everything overwhelms them.

  • Arianna’s tips are especially important because students are often more willing to listen to peers when it comes to balancing school and designing their futures.
Tips I wish I would have heard my senior year

Explore new pathways at the Getting Smart convening

Tacoma Convening, October 19-20, Greater Tacoma Convention Center

A conference is coming to Tacoma that will explore how we can help Washington students design the futures they want.

  • Getting Smart is hosting the conference with American Student Assistance, Puget Sound Educational Service District, and Tacoma Public Schools.
  • Together, they will explore how we can ensure all students in Washington have access to education and career pathways programs.
  • The New Pathways Convening will take place October 19-20 at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center.
Paving the Way for Pathways: Connecting Local Schools and Businesses

Your Questions, Answered.

Every month, we’ll answer your questions about our Washington state work.

Q: You just announced a new Horizons regional grant program. How does that differ from the Limitless learning network you highlighted last month?

A: With the Limitless Learning Network, which is run by grantee Education First, we’re hoping to bring regional partnerships together to share ideas and learn from one another. They’ll also have a chance to travel to different locations to explore best practices in action.

Through Horizons, we will provide grants to three regional partnerships to help expand or scale programs to help more students in their community enroll in a postsecondary program. We hope all three regions that receive Horizons funding will join the Limitless Learning Network so they can share what they’re learning through the Horizons focused investments.

Got Additional Questions?

Do you have questions about our new education strategy in Washington state? You can submit them here. We’ll continue to answer the most-asked questions in future editions.

What We’re Reading

Read next

Horizons Newsletter: New WA state grant opportunity

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Washington State team is launching a Request for Proposals to join Horizons.

June 2023 Newsletter: Our focus this summer — and beyond

As I shared in a recent blog post, in our work to ensure young people in Washington state have the opportunities they need to design the future they want, I always try to keep three students in the forefront of my mind.

May 2023 Newsletter: Our recent trip to Yakima

Learning from regional partners who are helping students make a successful transition from high school to postsecondary.