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Struggling Charter School Ready For New Life

Marcus Lavergne
Rainshadow Community Charter High School's graduation ceremony on Friday, June 3.

Rainshadow Community Charter High School has faced a year-long test to simply stay open. Their charter has just been renewed by the Washoe County School District bringing a special sense of relief among the students and faculty, as well as the chance for a new start. Reno Public Radio’s Marcus Lavergne recently attended their graduation ceremony, which almost didn’t take place.  

As Principal Toby Wiedenmayer congratulates the purple and silver clad graduates on a warm Friday evening, the crowded auditorium erupts with applause and cheers from friends, family and faculty.

One graduate, David Cordova, says the path to graduation hasn’t always been easy.

“It means a lot. It took a lot of believing in me. Now that I started to see that people started believing in me I felt more like I could do more. It makes me want to move forward and be known as a good person and an ambitious person.” 

Many students come to the school with credit deficiencies and have had trouble getting by in traditional classrooms. Rainshadow has helped many of them get on track. But, when the school’s lower-than-average graduation rate and money concerns came into play, the school board had to decide if it would prematurely close the campus down in January.

Ultimately, the board agreed to let them finish out the school year.

According to Chief School Performance Officer, Paul LaMarca, there could have been devastating consequences if Rainshadow had closed.

“Class sizes in our traditional schools aren’t necessarily huge, but just the sheer number of kids that are within a building can be daunting for some students.”

That was the case for 17-year-old MaShawn Rowley.

“When I started here I was horribly shy and could not stand up and talk in front of anybody, and I actually have an anxiety disorder, so that makes school really difficult.”      

MaShawn, a National Honor Society member with a passion for the arts and business, overcame her shyness to become class valedictorian.

“Just to be up here and to have shown myself I’m capable of anything means a lot, and the teachers who helped me through that, I know it means a lot to them because they’ve seen where I started out at and they know where I am now.”

For MaShawn’s mom, Donna, faith in the program and staff helped her through the more turbulent days.

“I had to tell myself as much as her, that we were doing the best we could and that we had to believe that it was gonna work, and it did.”

Donna says MaShawn learned to stand up for herself and speak up for her beliefs during her time at Rainshadow.  

“I’m really, really proud of my daughter, she started out a very shy young lady and she has grown into such a wonderful woman.”

MaShawn seems to have the near future figured out with plans to attend the University of Nevada, Reno and eventually become a special effects artist for horror films.

For Rainshadow, time will bring many changes. Principal Toby Wiedenmayer says the school plans to rebrand itself, and leave its scarred image behind.

“We are very fortunate. A lot of things happened after the January meeting, a lot of wonderful relationships were built. The first is that we built a relationship with the Boys and Girls Club, which is going to actually allow us to relocate into one of their facilities.”

Wiedenmayer and her staff were also able to partner with foundations that have agreed to handle employee pay for July and August, as well as other fees.

The school also plans to call itself enCompass Academy. The rebranding efforts will create a new identity for Rainshadow, but Weidenmayer says one thing won’t change.

“I think the biggest thing that always comes up when anybody’s asked is it’s a family. We work hard to maintain that. We recognize that sometimes we might fight but we have to work it out.”

This graduation marks six years for Rainshadow, but for Wiedenmayer, it also marks a fresh start.

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