Serving up a team effort

There is a time to work and a time to play.

Students at Renaissance High School in Bremerton are discovering that in more ways than one, but not because summer vacation is rapidly approaching.

Since last October, students at the alternative school have been planning, designing and constructing a sand volleyball court near the edge of campus. The court, which will be open for public use, is expected to be playable by the end of the school year, although the landscaping around it will be completed in the fall.

“This used to be overgrown with briers and sticker bushes and we looked at what we could do to reclaim the land,” said Renaissance teacher Steven Barnard. “We’re trying to give a little back to the community and with projects like this, the kids are taking ownership in the school and the programs.”

The idea for the volleyball court came about during a brainstorming session by students in Barnard’s leadership class in October. He said the students were interested in doing something that would benefit both the school and the community.

Though students in the leadership class initiated the project, Barnard said nearly the entire school has helped in the various phases of construction and other campus beautification efforts. Several outside organizations have also played crucial roles in designing, providing materials and funding the roughly $2,600 court.

“It’s fun because we’re not just sitting in class, we’re out doing things,” said sophomore Sarah Langhjelm, 15. “It’s not a simple task, it takes hard work, but it’s a nice feeling because it’ll be for a good cause and we’ll have a nice volleyball court.”

A grant-writing campaign by students secured the school a $1,400 community outreach mini-grant from the Washington Education Association for the project. The school also used monetary concessions it receives from Pepsi for having its soda machines on campus and students raised additional money through fund-raising such as bake sales.

The court itself lies just beyond the school’s boundary line, on property owned by the Frances Haddon Morgan Center. Barnard said they were allowed to begin construction under a shared land-use agreement with the center’s blessing.

“We determined right away we’d need help, so we forged partnerships in the community to make it work,” Barnard said.

Along with receiving design and construction assistance by the Bremerton School District, several private businesses provided the students with building materials. Bruce Christopherson with ACE Paving gave discounts on the cost of sand and gravel, and Brothers United gave the free use of a Bobcat loader to move gravel.

Barnard said there was community uproar several years ago when the school was built upon land that had been playfields and little league ballfields. He hopes the volleyball court and subsequent projects will provide more public recreational opportunities as well as improve Renaissance’s image and relationship with the community.

“Our school is not really known to the community and I think people see ‘alternative’ as a school for bad kids,” Langhjelm said. “But if they got to know it, then they’d see that it’s really a great school.”

“We’re not that bad as people make us out to be,” added junior Rose Schwanke, 17. “A lot of people think the kids that go here are outcasts that got kicked out of the regular high school, but most of the kids come here by choice.”

Barnard plans to make community projects a permanent part of his leadership class, but the feasibility of that will largely depend on the funding available. Although he’s leaving the project ideas up to his future classes, at some point Barnard hopes his students can construct a path linking the volleyball court to Forest Ridge Park and renovate the large playfield located behind the school.

“I wanted there to be more bookwork at the beginning but it’s evolved into more of a hands-on type of class,” Barnard said of his leadership class.

“I found out right away they wanted to be out there doing something (rather than) learning about parliamentary procedure and I think it’s much better that way. I just want to facilitate and give them the opportunity to take charge.”

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