Boise teacher creates program to help struggling students

Helping High is a non-profit that provides basic needs - like food and clothes - for students.

BOISE - Frank Church Alternative High School in Boise has been the answer for many high school students who have had trouble succeeding in a traditional high school setting. But, it's hard to keep your grades up, when you're just struggling to get by. That's where teacher Jess Hawley comes in.

Hawley started teaching at Frank Church in 2000. Right away, his students and their stories had a powerful impact on him.

"I started realizing how tragic their situations were, and their stories and their lives," he said. "They had nowhere to turn, they had no resources, they had no support."

Eight years ago, he decided he had to do more to help.

"My idea was to develop a network of community partnerships of institutions and individuals to combat the needs of the kids," Hawley said.

With the help of a grant, Helping High was born. It's non-profit that provides basic needs - like food and clothes - for students. All they have to do in return is help themselves by staying in school.

"It's an unbelievable program," said Amy Rust, a social worker at the school. "He's gotten donations from agencies in the community, different companies, he's got coats and hats and gloves and shoes - a lot of basic needs which our kids don't oftentimes have."

16-year-old Joseph York was one of those kids. When he started at Frank Church this year, he was homeless.

"When we first got here, we were staying in our truck for about 35 days," said Joseph. "He gave me some clothes, he gave me these shoes that I'm wearing right now. It helps students that are in bad situations. It really helps. All he wants you to do is keep your grades up."

Another student, Brooklyn Jessup, transferred to Frank Church from Boise High. She says she just couldn't keep up. At just 17, she helps take care of her brother and works full time to put food on the table.

"I have to take my mom to all her appointments because she has medical [issues], and so I was getting really bad grades," Brooklyn said. "I work 40 hours a week, so I'm full time and at school and it's really hard because you break down, but it's nice to have Mr. Hawley here because he really cares."

Until he created Helping High, Hawley says his students' situations weighed heavily on him.

"It would just bring you to your knees," he said. "I'm on the verge of going to pieces when I hear these stories. Instead of being shattered right along with them and not knowing what to do and where to turn, I can help start solving the problem."

Helping High also creates a teaching moment.

"It opens up the avenue for us to talk and explain to them how school is the key to changing their situation," Hawley said. "It just builds respect."

Hawley also partnered with Bogus Basin to give the kids in his program a chance to ski, something most of them have never experienced. Bogus Basin donates lessons, passes and equipment rentals. It's another great incentive to keep working hard in the classroom.

The goal is to keep these kids in school, to see them graduate and to break the cycle.

"I think he's incredibly passionate," said Amy Rust, the school social worker. "He's got so much passion and energy and he loves working with these kids. They are really comfortable with him. They feel like he's got their back, and he understands their situation."

Donations help keep Mr. Hawley's room stocked with clothes, shoes, coats and food. He always needs more.

To learn more about the incredible community partners and donors that make Helping High happen, and how you can be one of them, click here.


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