Supporting students in Washington, a place I love to call home

Angela Jones

I set my roots in Washington state as a shy and awkward student with big hopes and dreams about what could be for our state and world. I may be a little less awkward, but almost three decades later, I still have big hopes and dreams about what can be as my team launches our new strategy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Washington State Initiative.

Focused on grades 9-13, we will lean into ensuring Washington students can successfully make the transition between K-12 and their postsecondary pursuits—whether that be an apprenticeship, two-year, or four-year school. We will focus on Black, Latino, and Indigenous students, and students from low-income backgrounds because these students often face the largest barriers in their education journeys. We also know there is a through line to rural students with great need, and we intend to provide support to reach positive impact for all of these students.

My optimism is not void of understanding there are barriers to overcome, but more often than not, those barriers were created by us—and that means we can choose to stop perpetuating a system that isn’t working for every student.

Today, Washington state ranks 46th in the country in the percent of students who immediately enroll in postsecondary programs after high school (61% compared to the national average of 69%). In this state, which I love dearly, we are not currently meeting the aspirations of our young people—and that’s on us.

I come into this work with the lens of 16-year-old Angela who had to consistently advocate for what she needed in her K-12 education. I carry college student Angela with me, who didn’t feel supported enough to make it through her STEM major. I bring teacher Angela who started her K-12 education career in the Yakima Valley on a journey that also led to Spokane Public Schools. I bring the experience of Angela working in higher education, who tried to provide unique supports to every student during their college journeys. And finally, today’s Angela who knows that the decisions I make now will determine whether I meet my aspiration to be a good ancestor.

My team and I also value that we live, work, and play in community right here in Washington state, so we will collaborate with communities to develop and implement the solutions our students need most. We’ve already engaged with more than 200 stakeholders across the state for input and feedback to develop our strategy and we remain committed to continued engagement and clear and transparent communication.

Part of being rooted in place is recognizing that regions across Washington have different challenges and opportunities. The jobs in Wenatchee look different than they do in Tacoma. We believe regions are best suited to identify their own solutions that meet the needs and interests of the young people who live there. We’ll tap into this local expertise by helping regions build coalitions that include families, schools, nonprofits organizations, and colleges—all united under a single goal: to help students pursue their postsecondary aspirations. We also will pair these regional collaborations with technical experts, who can help them create and test new programs that serve their students.

As we extend invitations for regions to join us in this effort as part of a “learning network” in 2023, we look forward to rolling up our sleeves with you. Our first year of grantmaking will focus on helping regions explore local student barriers, begin to test solutions, and build partnerships—while also supporting state-level policies and programs that will benefit all students, like helping more students access financial aid. We hope you’ll be part of this collaboration as the work begins, because it will take all of us.

I had to constantly advocate for myself as a student, and now that I’m blessed to be in this role at the Gates Foundation, I consider it my duty to be an advocate for students like me. Young people are already using their voice to demand more pathways to success. I hope we can all work together to give every student the opportunities they need to design the futures they want.

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