By RayJaun Stelly | Source: The Seattle Medium
The Why Not You Academy (WNYA), co-founded by former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara, caters to 9th-12th grade students in South King County. The academy offers a re-imagined approach to education, prioritizing diversity, experience, and relationships to prepare students for success in college, their careers, and civic life.
Situated in Des Moines, the academy has emerged as a trailblazing institution that equips students with the skills necessary for the real world through hands-on learning experiences.
At WNYA, students receive personalized education and engage in a rigorous curriculum. The academy’s small class sizes allow for individual attention and support, enabling students to excel. In class, students learn within an identity-affirming school culture through culturally responsive and relevant projects. Each student also receives guidance from advisors and mentors to navigate their high school experience.
“This is the perfect location,” says Abigail O’Neal, Executive Director of Why Not You Academy. “It’s a midway area without any charter schools nearby, and we have students coming from 45 different middle schools.”
Teachers at WNYA hail from various countries, fostering worldwide diversity in the classroom and supporting the school’s anti-racist vision, which aims to assist all students and promote inclusion for BIPOC students.
As part of the Leaving To Learn program, students spend one day a week working in professional settings, building networks, relationships, self-confidence, and practical skills.
Starting in their freshman year, students express their career interests and engage in internships and shadow days within the community. This framework allows students to establish professional relationships and gain relevant experiences, setting the stage for their post-high school vision of success and equipping them with the skills to transform that vision into reality.
“Leaving To Learn will produce some first-generation college graduates,” says O’Neal. “From freshman year, our students begin exploring careers. Without the experiences we provide, many of our students would not have that opportunity. This is the heart of our program, and we want the career world to be accessible to them at 14.”
Beyond helping students explore potential career paths, WNYA offers a range of experiences tailored to individual interests and aspirations. Whether it’s a state-of-the-art recording studio for aspiring musicians or an e-sports room for athletes, WNYA encourages students to develop their talents and pursue their passions.
“I feel like Why Not You Academy really prepares us for the future through its program,” says WNYA student Justin Hayward. “It helped me explore what I want to do. I discovered a passion for engineering and business, which I am now going to pursue.”
Evangeline, another student at WNYA with a love for writing and photography, found her professional interest in photojournalism through a passion project.
“As part of the program, I conducted an informational interview with a journalist, preparing myself for the future and gaining experience conversing with professionals,” says Evangeline.
WNYA student Rochelle Jefferies describes the school as a safe and nurturing environment, akin to a home away from home.
“The teachers and staff are very welcoming, building connections and mentoring us, ensuring that we can approach them with anything,” says Jefferies. “I am able to relax and be myself.”
Upon graduating from the academy, students possess the skills necessary to lead intentional, purposeful, and fulfilling lives. Empowered and motivated to take action, those who persist will continue to improve themselves, their communities, and the world at large.