Seattle Interagency students on dying young, adversity and the “at-risk” label

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"At-risk" students from Seattle Interagency Academy.

Every Thursday morning, new students trudge into the auditorium at the Seattle Interagency Academy. They're handed white binders full of questions that will help school officials assess their current struggles and future goals. To help lighten the mood, Interagency principal Kaaren Andrews, plays "Happy" by Pharrell Williams.

Interagency Academy is a network of 12 small alternative schools spread out across Seattle that serves the at-risk youth population. Part of the Seattle Public School system, Interagency operates in partnership with city and county agencies and private organizations, running school programs at the King County jail, the Orion Center homeless shelter, the downtown YMCA and other non-traditional locations.

Every Interagency kid here has a different story. Some are homeless, some were suspended or expelled from other schools around the city. There are kids who struggle with anger or depression and kids who can't read well. In the last six months, six students from Interagency Academy died — three were murdered, three committed suicide.  (A few weeks ago Kaaren Andrews spoke with us about those students and their struggles.)

Kids at alternative schools are often labeled "at-risk." Rarely do we ask the students if they agree with that label, or dig deeper into their personal stories. How do they view themselves? What have they overcome already in their young lives? I sat down with Interagency students Damani, Damar, Holly, Aeriona, Ne'Keyia, Essence, Antonio and Mijoy, who agreed to share their stories, thoughts and feelings with you.

Click on that red circle below to launch the podcast and hear what they had to say.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Katy Sewall

Katy Sewall

Katy Sewall is a journalist, radio host and podcast consultant. For nine years, she was Lead Producer (and occasional host) of KUOW's "Weekday" with Steve Scher. She has also worked with "RadioLab" and "A Prairie Home Companion." She currently produces and co-hosts the popular podcast "The Bittersweet Life" found on iTunes, Sticher, etc., and at