Even the many snow days of this school year can’t stop the Class of 2017. At high schools across Clark County, seniors are preparing to cross the stage to collect their diplomas and launch the next phase of their lives. To celebrate their journey, The Columbian is profiling five seniors from the Class of 2017 who displayed some form of activism or advocacy outside of the classroom, as recommended by their teachers, counselors and principals.
Isabel Barrueta: Helping students in need
In her junior year, 18-year-old Isabel Barrueta realized her school’s resource center for low-income students — and the families it serves — needed a little TLC.
The Vancouver School of Arts and Academics senior decided to make it her personal mission to collect donations and promote the school’s Caring Closet, which provides food, clothes, hygiene products and other resources to students in need.
Unlike schools that have staffed Family and Community Resource Centers, VSAA’s resources for students in need are more limited. At VSAA, about 21 percent of the school’s students receive free or reduced-price lunch — one of the lowest for Vancouver Public Schools, where about half the district’s students receive that support.
Name: Isabel Barrueta.
School: Vancouver School of Arts and Academics.
Advanced coursework: Advanced Placement United States history and government and politics.
Clubs and activities: Acted in multiple theater productions, publicity editor for school newspaper.
Volunteer work: Volunteers with Union Chapel Vancouver youth group.
Job: Works at G6 Airpark.
What’s next: Attending Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle to study performance production with a concentration in stage management.
“To think that kids with free and reduced lunch, to think that could be their only meal, it broke my heart,” she said. “I wanted to make sure VSAA had something like that.”
Barrueta recognized, despite the lower rate of students in poverty, that there was still a need for a well-stocked resource for students at her school.
“I know administration knows those students who are in need and connects with them, but sometimes financially there will be times that things are really, really hard,” she said.
So Barrueta began to ask friends for donations of clothes, grocery gift cards and school supplies. She told her friends about the closet, and worked with administrators to spread the word that the resource was available. Student volunteers cleaned and organized the space.
“It definitely needed a lot of love, and I decided I wanted to take that and make that my baby and really nurture it to the best of my ability and fill it with the resources students do need,” Barrueta said.
Though the initial hard work is over, Barrueta watches for students who don’t have a lunch or seem hungry. When she sees them, she gently directs them to the resource she played a role in providing.“You can’t do your best work unless you’re taking the best care of yourself,” she said.
Maggie Arnold: Puts faith into action with leadership activities
Maggie Arnold’s passion for helping children brings the Prairie High School senior to tears.
Between the hours spent as the high school’s associated student body president, competing in three sports and participating in numerous clubs, Arnold spends her time dedicated to the work she holds most dear: leading youth groups at City Bible Church’s Mill Plain campus.
“I have a heart to help them,” Arnold said of the children she works with. “I have the opportunity to make a difference and make an impact.”
Arnold leads a ministry of elementary school students and a second group of middle school students. It’s simple work, she said, usually just “doing life.” Spending time together, going on outings and being a friend. But being a peer to other students at the church can make a world of difference in times of hardship.
Name: Maggie Arnold.
School: Prairie High School.
Clubs and activities: Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, Christian Students Union, associated student body president, track, cross country, basketball.
Volunteer: Youth group leader.
Jobs: Babysitting, worked at Buckets food cart.
What’s next: Attending Clark College for an associate’s degree with plans to go on for a nursing degree.
“There is a huge cry for somebody who cares and someone who is there,” she said.
Arnold is an advocate for providing safe spaces for families and children, helping support them through challenges like bullying, problems at home or other significant obstacles. She said she’s had the opportunity to meet a diverse group of people at her church, including those who have struggled with drug addiction or affiliation with gangs.
“Just through my own experience I realized how important it is to have that base of people who believe in you, people who are there to pray for you and talk about whatever you’re going through,” she said.
Arnold will attend Clark College next year and plans to go on to earn a nursing degree. She hopes to become a neonatal nurse, bringing her love for children into her professional life.
“I believe in my work in providing I can bring a peace into the room because I have Jesus,” she said.
Ernesto Zurita: New citizen fights for immigrant rights
As a new citizen himself, Ernesto Zurita is working to make Clark County safer for recent immigrants and new residents.
The Heritage High School senior, a Mexican immigrant who became a citizen in January, is an active volunteer with immigrant rights group OneAmerica. The organization, founded after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, fights for equal rights for people of color and immigrants facing discrimination.
“I wouldn’t have found myself doing this if I couldn’t relate to this,” the 18-year-old Zurita said.
In his role with OneAmerica, Zurita works to raise awareness of the positive impacts immigrants from all countries have had on Vancouver. With the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, the organization worked to provide information to families on how to apply.
Name: Ernesto Zurita.
School: Heritage High School.
Advanced coursework: 12 Advance Placement courses, including biology, United States history, English language and composition, English literature and composition and calculus.
Clubs and activities: Plays trumpet with the school band, and plays accordion and guitar with a Mexican band outside of school.
Volunteer work: Volunteers with OneAmerica and the Sierra Club.
Job: Internship at ShinEtsu America, a silicon wafer manufacturer.
What’s next: Attending University of Portland with intent to major in mechanical engineering.
Since the 2016 election, which saw President Donald Trump emerge victorious after strong language against Mexican immigration and the call for a wall along the southern border of the United States, the tone of Zurita’s work has changed.
The organization has held a series of “Know Your Rights” workshops to provide immigrants with information on how to protect themselves and their families in light of increased immigration arrests in the first months of the Trump administration.
“There’s a lot of fear in immigrant communities on what’s going to happen with new policies and with the executive orders Trump is doing,” he said.
Zurita is also a vocal opponent of the proposed Vancouver Energy terminal at the Port of Vancouver, saying the predominantly Hispanic community in the Fruit Valley neighborhood will be disproportionately affected by the oil terminal because it’s so close to the site. Zurita volunteers with the Sierra Club, and will study mechanical engineering at the University of Portland with hopes of working to develop renewable energy technologies.
“I feel like that’s the best way to have solutions with our current energy crisis we have and over heavy reliance on fossil fuels,” Zurita said.
Lauren Rath: Turned difficult period into positive approach
Lauren Rath sees and advocates for the people who oftentimes want to remain hidden.
The Hockinson High School senior notices when classmates are feeling down, or are alone. She talks to them, asks them to meet her friends and tries to connect them with an adult if they need help. Rath, 18, does this because she knows the feeling.
“I came out of a pretty bad bullying situation in middle school,” she said. “I started my freshman year feeling really crummy, and not thinking much of myself. I was in this really bad cycle of negative self-talk. One thing happens and it ruins your entire day. Coming out of middle school and starting at a new place with a clean slate was so helpful.”
Rath said she blamed herself if anything went wrong, and her negative self-talk turned into isolation in middle school. Her mother noticed and stepped in.
“When I see her care for people and talk to people, she is fully present and genuine,” Rath said. “She puts her whole heart into picking someone up, meeting them where they’re at, and trying to figure out what the next step is.”
Name: Lauren Rath.
School: Hockinson High School.
Clubs and activities: Mock trial, cheer, band and drama.
Job: Works at Chipotle.
What’s next: Will attend American University in Washington, D.C., in the fall to major in political science with hopes of working in the foreign service.
It’s why she reaches out when she sees classmates isolating themselves.
“The main thing is really just sitting there and talking to them and saying, ‘You have a friend and you have someone you can talk to.’ Sometimes that’s all it takes, especially for a kid,” she said. “I know this all too well, this feeling, like, ‘There’s no one in this entire world who wants to talk to me. There’s no one here who cares about me.’ That just makes the cycle worse and worse. Just being able to show a person that one person cares about you is a huge thing, even if it doesn’t feel huge to them in the moment.”
Toward the end of eighth grade, Rath also started participating in Young Life, a nondenominational Bible study group, where she was able to meet new people and connect with them through their shared Christian faith.
She rose up the ranks and was named a leader, where she was in charge of a group of middle school girls. They’d meet, go over a Bible verse and end up talking about life.
Then Rath, who came out as bisexual to friends and family while in high school, posted a picture on Instagram of her and her girlfriend. She didn’t think much of it, assuming everyone already knew about her sexuality. Some Young Life leaders didn’t, and told her she couldn’t be a leader anymore.
“It pulled my entire faith into question, and that really hurt,” she said.
Rath said she started to go back to those feelings she had in middle school, ones of isolation and like she did something wrong or was at fault for ruining something. But instead of spiraling down, this time Rath was confident in herself.
“Some people just aren’t going to like you because of this one little thing, and they’re going to think you’re an awful person. They’re going to think that your relationship with God isn’t real,” she said. “They’re going to think whatever they want to think, because of some little thing about you. That really could’ve thrown me for a loop, but because of my support system and because of how much I’ve grown, I was able to avoid that.”
Natasha Stout: Finds hope by exploring dark themes in art
Ridgefield High School senior Natasha Stout felt odd for the first hour of this year’s district art show.
“It was for elementary school students through high school students, and there were a lot of parents there to see their kids’ work. They’d walk up happy and smiling and once they looked around at my work, they looked sort of like they’ve seen a ghost and walk away really awkwardly,” she said. “I felt sad because nobody really wanted to look at it.”
Tamara Hoodenpyl, the school’s visual arts teacher, reminded Stout that her work was created to get that reaction.
“It was something I had to adapt to,” Stout said.
For this year’s advanced art class, Stout had to choose a concentration. She decided to draw attention to subjects that people tend to whisper about behind closed doors. In her work, she flipped the more traditional portrait to deal with topics like the labels people put on black children, transgender hate crime victims and rape.
Name: Natasha Stout.
School: Ridgefield High School.
Clubs and activities: Art Club president.
Job: Works at Panera Bread.
What’s next: Thinking of going to community college before transferring to a university; would like to work as an artist.
Her watercolor paintings each feature a person from the shoulders up, looking straight ahead. Some are bruised and beaten. Others have the life seemingly drained from their eyes.
“It’s to confront people because they can’t really look anywhere else,” she said. “These people are staring straight at them. It gets the most reaction out of people.”
Stout researched a list of topics for her artwork, then picked which ones to explore. Stout said the research could have made it easy for her to grow more cynical about the world. Instead, she went the other way. She’s grown more hopeful for change.
Another inspiration for Stout is the Black Lives Matter movement, and hearing the people involved in that organization speak about their cause. She said she wants to speak out about marginalized groups.
“I can talk about things that people aren’t talking about, that should be talked about,” she said. “I started to do that in all my art. It was this year that I felt like I had most to say. It has helped me see other people’s perspectives and gain a hope that all of us can fix what’s going on.”