Joe Whisenand, right, shows freshman Spencer Jonas how to make a tortilla in the Learning Lab at Langley. (Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record)

Joe Whisenand, right, shows freshman Spencer Jonas how to make a tortilla in the Learning Lab at Langley. (Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record)

Alternative school seeking students, staff

South Whidbey parents are close to getting state approval of Woodhaven High School.

An alternative high school on South Whidbey is searching for more families, teachers and parents to get involved.

Believing that there is a gap in other styles of education available for teens on the South End, Marli Jenkins has been helping to create Woodhaven High School, a Waldorf-inspired school with an emphasis on service-focused education led by students.

Woodhaven’s model is based on the democratically run Youth Initiative High School of Wisconsin.

Jenkins, whose son is part of the effort as one of Woodhaven’s first full-time students, has voluntarily taken on many administrative duties.

Along with another parent, she is working to receive state approval of Woodhaven as a private school. Although the school currently operates out of the South Whidbey Community Center in Langley with a handful of students and faculty members, Jenkins is hopeful it could open its doors as an official institution starting this fall.

“My background is not in education or administration,” she said. “I just felt like this was a really important idea.”

Jenkins has been working on starting the alternative school since 2019. She is joined by Kent Ratekin, who has experience starting schools in the past. Ratekin serves as Woodhaven’s faculty liaison and has also taught classes as an instructor.

One of the goals of Woodhaven is for students to be able to develop their own curriculums.

“All these things that are coming up in the world, we want the students to feel like they have a place in understanding it but also directing it,” Ratekin said.

He added that Woodhaven has a lot of “core overlap” with a Waldorf school, but differentiates in its ability to include other sources, such as the mentors and local business owners the students have been working with.

Besides curriculum choices, the idea is that students will also have a say in hiring decisions.

The founders of Woodhaven are currently looking at offering “freely gifted” education in lieu of a fixed tuition rate. Ratekin said this could mean having a “sliding scale” payment option available for families.

The school could also look for other ways of fundraising, such as grants and other funding opportunities.

Jenkins explained that the important thing is to be able to accept any student, regardless of economic status.

“Our desire for people who participate is that they do give something,” she said, which besides monetary costs could also include time spent building the school.

“I think sometimes people hesitate to join something that’s new,” Jenkins said. “To me, that’s kind of the exciting part. We’re just really starting to figure it out and to be involved and doing something new.”

The adaptability of the Woodhaven schedule has allowed the students to attend training by the Sound Water Stewards, a group of volunteer citizen scientists.

“That is one of the benefits of being a really small, kind of start-up school is that we can be very flexible and we can kind of pivot,” Jenkins said.

Like any school this past year, the pandemic changed learning. Though class sizes are small, Woodhaven students have been spending two days at home doing online learning and two days in classes. Fridays are left open for mentorship opportunities.

Students have core classes, such as literature, math, science and history, but they also currently have electives such as kayaking, parkour and baking.

On a sunny afternoon in April, the students tried their hand at making tortillas in the Learning Lab at Langley. Instructor Joe Whisenand showed them how to work with different types of dough.

“The idea is that what they learn here makes its way outside the classroom walls and it makes its way into the daily life so that they have a certain number of recipes that are in their brain that they can just go to,” Whisenand said.

Kelvin, Jenkins’ son baked for the very first time that day.

“They’ve been getting steadily rounder,” he said of his tortillas. “My first one looked like a boomerang.”

The sophomore added that he is looking forward to gaining a better understanding of the basics in the kitchen.

“I feel like the future’s bright, especially with young people as great as these,” Jenkins observed that day.

For information about Woodhaven High School, call 360-227-6738 or email or to Jenkins at

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