Senior Spotlight: Winter Bee | Whatcom Intergenerational High School, Bellingham

Jun 28, 2023 | Senior/Graduate Spotlights, Student Voice

As Winter Bee celebrates her graduation this year from Whatcom Intergenerational High School (WIHS), we applaud her for her leadership as a community leader both at her school and beyond the classroom walls.

Winter Bee

A community that is safe, inclusive and supportive

When Winter reflects on her two years at WIHS, she first shares how proud she is of the community that she helped create. “It was super amazing to work with my fellow students to build a new community,” she says. “We helped set up a winter formal, for example. We found a good spot and spread the word. A lot of students came and I was surprised at first because I know a lot of them prefer to do their own thing, but it was super cool that they came and brought their families.”

Winter’s community-building didn’t stop at putting together a school dance. “I’m also proud of working with my indigenous classmates to organize a rally in support of missing and murdered indigenous women, especially those suffering in our local region. We sang songs and made signs in the language of the Lummi Nation indigenous community for a rally at a local park,” she shares. And her school helped amplify her advocacy. “We had a guest speaker at school, a powerful Black woman who talked about her experiences at college – her life and her story, as well as her experiences around racism and misogyny. For once, everyone was paying attention!”

A challenging transition and finding her voice

When Winter joined the inaugural class at WIHS, she had to grapple with a lot of changes in her life and in serving as a founding student at a new school. “It was challenging,” she says, “I had to find my voice and my place in school. I had been home-schooled my whole life before transferring to WIHS.” In a new school, everyone is trying to find their footing. “I had things that I wanted to accomplish in high school and since it was new, everyone else was trying to find their footing, too. That first year was tough in pursuing my goals, but it got easier the second year.”

Winter found support at her new school that first year, which was operating temporarily at Whatcom Community College. “All of the teachers were super nice and we got to explore the college a little bit.”

“I was very excited to not be home-schooled anymore and I was definitely ready to go to a public school. But the other public schools in my area didn’t feel like a good fit. My mom found Whatcom Intergenerational High School because it looked open and inclusive,” Winter says. “I was nervous at first, but at lunch time on the first day a random girl sat down next to me and we became friends on that first day. We have been friends ever since. Once you have even just one friend, you know it’s going to be OK.”

Helping fellow students build their own community

Winter is eager to share advice for those just starting high school, especially if they’ve had a difficult time in their education. “You have a voice and you have a choice of what to do,” she says. “At our school, we are student-led and it is amazing to have support for discovering your dreams and setting goals to achieve them, whatever they may be.”

Winter suggests that students “stand your ground and say, ‘hey, I want to do this.’ Build a community, especially when there is hurt, anger and pain beneath the surface. Build a community and heal not only yourself but those around you. I loved how our school’s students – many of whom come from foster homes or were bullied at previous schools – didn’t just suck it up and cover their difficult experiences with a smile. It’s ok to cry and be upset. It’s ok to tell the people hurting you that they are hurting you and that they need to stop. The most amazing question you can ask someone is, ‘hey, are you OK?”

A community for education

Winter, who is looking forward to beginning classes at Whatcom Community College, appreciates the education she earned at WIHS. “I got a lot more experience with writing essays, especially when I started Running start,” she says. “Rachel Rodriguez (WIHS Director of Equity and Community Engagement) connected me with Kristina, who serves on the Bellingham City Council. Kristina knew we didn’t have a music class at our school and so she helped me find opportunities to sing in the community. Those experiences helped me explore my roots and learn more about who I am. It was an eye-opener. I’m so thankful that I met Rachel at WIHS because she’s always been such a great person at the school who helped me find my voice and connect me with other BIPOC communities.”

With the support of school leaders like Rachel and community leaders like Kristina, Winter has sung at George Floyd Memorials and at Juneteenth. She would sing Sam Cooke, Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit” and the old spiritual, “Wade in the Water.”

“At the memorials, I wanted to acknowledge that it was a sad gathering but at the same time it should also be an uplifting community event to applaud the people who were there. And I love Sam Cooke,” Winter says. “’Strange Fruit’ is a little more dark and a lot more sad, but I wanted to leave a mark and say, ‘we are making change but there isn’t always a celebration for a sad story. ‘Wade in the Water’ is a great reminder for people that slavery still exists and the music helps share a little bit of history for people.”

Winter’s journey ahead

“I want to be a social worker,” Winter says. “I plan on studying substance abuse and similar disorders. One day, I’d like to set up a program for foster youth. I also can’t wait to travel – my mom loves to hike and camp, so I’ve travelled a little bit here and there but I haven’t gone outside of the United States yet. I really want to go to Australia, Zimbabwe and Papa New Guinea. When I was little, my bathroom had a shower curtain with a map of the world on it. That’s how I picked out where I would travel!”

We congratulate Winter on her successful graduation, thank her for helping build an inclusive community, and look forward to her success as she pursues her dreams in the journey ahead.