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Networking power: Wahluke students compete in annual Amazing Shake

Feb. 8—MATTAWA — Wahluke Junior High held its annual Amazing Shake event Thursday morning, where students competed to demonstrate their "soft skills" at 21 different stations and scenarios designed to help them improve communication and interpersonal skills.

Wahluke School District Assessment Coordinator LeeAnn Neary runs the event with Wahluke Junior High Dean of Students Autumn Harlow.

"The Amazing Shake is a process that we put our kids through at Wahluke School District that works on soft skills," Neary said. "These are the skills that are going to help kids when they go to college entrance interviews, or when they go apply for a job or just to be an ASB officer in high school."

The different scenarios consist of challenges such as speaking to someone new, answering political and current events questions or acting as a weather forecaster warning Grant County of an impending storm before being surprised by a machine blowing fake snow, mimicking the storm.

"We strongly feel that last week was the best Shake that we've ever had," Neary said. "Over the last six or seven years, we have been able to purchase and keep our items as we go and build on it, and last year, the Teaching and Learning Department gave us $10,000 so we were able to buy all the carpets that you saw, the stanchions, the furniture for the interview alley, the snow machine, things like that. So this year by far I think has been our best year in the way that it looked."

Thursday's event followed December's mini-gauntlet, a requirement for every junior high student, whittling the competitive pool down to about 75 students who competed Thursday. The top 25 will compete in events later in the year, and the eventual top 10 will travel to Atlanta for the Amazing Shake national competition.

"We have three elementary schools here on site; Mattawa Elementary, Saddle Mountain Elementary and Morris Schott STEAM Elementary," Neary said. "For the first time, we are taking the top fifth-grader from every school to Atlanta with us."

This was also the first year that schools from the surrounding area, such as thirty students from Othello, joined Wahluke's event.

Neary said the competition, which started in Wahluke six years ago, has been a success in helping students improve their soft skills.

"Not only do we see a difference," Neary said, "but we got calls from the high school when we first started doing it (asking), 'What are you guys doing? Why are these kids standing when they answer? Why are these kids so personable?' So that's where we were like, 'Oh, it's working, now we have to turn it up even more.'"

Eighth-grader Juan Bibiano competed Thursday and shared his thoughts on the event.

"I just feel like it's a good opportunity to learn communication skills and like other different types of skills," he said.

Miguel Valdovinos, another eighth-grader, also explained why he liked the event. Valdovinos previously traveled to Atlanta for the national competition.

"It prepares me for the future," he said. "For example, I want to get into real estate, and communication skills like this at the Amazing Shake just prepare me for the future."

Eighth-grader Denise Ramirez also spoke about the benefits of the event.

"It's just building confidence in yourself," she said.

Ramirez, Bibiano and Valdovinos all said they felt more confident after competing in the event.

Neary said she would like to see the concepts and curriculum used in the competition taught and extended beyond just the Amazing Shake and the junior high competitors.

"Our game plan every year is to just build it a little bit bigger," she said. "We want buy-in from every single building and (for) everybody to see the value that we see in it and grow it bigger so it's not just (grades) six through eight or three through eight, but it's bigger and actually becomes a K-12 initiative that everybody's doing. The district is behind it and this is something that we believe in."

Neary said the district could take what the students learn in the Amazing Shake and transfer that to student leadership positions at Wahluke High School.

"Gigi Calaway — she's our Student Support Services director — she actually received a leadership grant that she thinks will help take our Amazing Shake kids to the next level in the high school," Neary said. "So we're looking forward to developing that over the next year or so."

The event respects the students' maturity and prepares them for real-life situations, Neary said.

"I think that we're not doing our kids any favors by not preparing them for what's going to be in front of them once they get out of our school district," she said. "We have to prepare them in academics, absolutely, and also (in) finding out who you are and ... helping them find their foundation, whatever that may be, and building on that."

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com. Download the Columbia Basin Herald app on iOS and Android.