Arlington students follow different paths to graduation

Weston High School senior Monique Howard smiles as she talks with Chaney Varelas, an employment specialist at the school. Howard will be one of about 30 Weston students graduating on June 16. - Adam Rudnick
Weston High School senior Monique Howard smiles as she talks with Chaney Varelas, an employment specialist at the school. Howard will be one of about 30 Weston students graduating on June 16.
— image credit: Adam Rudnick

ARLINGTON — Monique Howard and Andy Smith may not have shared the same path, but both are heading in the same direction.

The two Arlington students — Howard, a product of the state’s foster care system who attends Weston High School and Smith, an academic and athletic standout from Arlington High School — will be two of more than 300 area seniors graduating as part of the class of 2010.

Local graduations began June 4, when Arlington Christian School students received their diplomas. During the next week, Highland Christian (June 11), Weston (June 16) and Arlington High School (June 15) will all hold their graduations.

It will be an emotional time for many seniors, including Howard, who came to Weston before her junior year after bouncing from home to home — foster family to foster family — before she arrived with a family in Arlington.

“When I first came here, I wasn’t sure I would fit in,” Howard said. “I’m used to adjusting to new situations. I can’t count the number of foster homes I’ve been in. But being in foster homes makes me not want to be a statistic.”

Howard said that many of the students she’s known who have been in foster care don’t graduation from high school.

“They don’t work hard enough at it,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to meet the people that I have met here at Weston.”

Chaney Varelas, an employment specialist at the school, has been the most influential of her support system, Howard said.

Varelas has helped Howard get involved with Connections, a federal, grant-funded program locally operated in Snohomish County called the Workforce Investment Act.

Howard started taking part in the program at the end of her junior year, gaining work experience and some extra money. She’s also volunteered at the Arlington Boys & Girls Club.

She even helped construct a barn for her senior project. The barn will be used to store antique aircraft for the Arlington Fly-In.

“I’ve always wanted to give back to the community,” Howard said. “There’s always something to do, you just have to find it.”

Howard will be attending Edmonds Community College starting this summer, and has received thousands of dollars in scholarships for her work during the past two years.

She hopes to one day open a pastry shop.

“Sometimes people have their ideas of what foster kids are and they think we’re all bad,” Howard said. “I’ve gotten more confident with myself here at Weston.”

While Howard’s family was relatively inconsistent until her junior year, Smith has always had strong mentors.

Growing up, he looked up to his older brother, Brett, who was four years his elder and played sports at the high school.

“The family tradition was basketball and football,” Smith said. “Those were always in my plans. During high school, it wasn’t a hard decision to continue with those.”

Smith was a two-year letterman and team captain on the school’s basketball and football teams during his four years. He won a number of individual awards, including being named the U.S. Army/Seattle Seahawks Player of the Week last fall.

Smith’s accomplishments don’t end on the football field or basketball court.

During his junior and senior years, Smith served as a student adviser to the Arlington School Board, and attended dozens of public meeting and events — most of which took place in the evening after school or sports practices.

He still kept his grades up, sporting a 3.8 GPA.

“It was a really great experience. You get to look at things from a difference viewpoint,” Smith said. “A lot of doors really opened up through it.”

On May 24, the School Board honored Smith with a resolution celebrating his term with the Board.

Smith said the recent Trafton School public hearings was the most notable experience he’s had while working with the Board.

Facing a $1.6 to $1.8 million budget shortfall, the school district may have to close the school.

Smith, a former Trafton student, said he doesn’t have an opinion on the decision.

“It’s been great to hear the views of both sides,” he said. “I’ve learned perspective from the School Board and working with other people. My maturity has gone up and my ability to grasp these big concepts has too.”

When Smith wasn’t playing sports or volunteering with the Board, he was an active elected official on the school’s Associate Student Body.

He served as ASB Vice President during his senior year, sophomore class Vice President and freshman class public relations manager during his high school career.

“I learned that you really can’t please everybody,” he said. “It’s hard to come to that realization.”

Smith will attend Western Washington University in the fall, and said he wants to study engineering and business. So far, he’s also received thousands of dollars in scholarships for college.

For now, he’s focused on graduation.

“Graduation will be a lot of fun,” Smith said. “It’s the Moving Up assembly (where each grade moves up one class) that will be the tear-jerker. Everything is coming to an end, but high school has been great. I’ve been really happy with it.”

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