The Clearwater School

A slice of home in a foreign land

Welcome to the Impact Fund Spotlight series, where we celebrate the work of community partners who are bridging the gap in health disparities for marginalized communities in Washington state. Today, we’re turning the spotlight on The Clearwater School (TCS), a democratic school in Bothell, Washington that offered COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and education at cultural hubs like grocery stores and community centers to serve diverse populations in King, Snohomish, and Skagit counties.

Under the guidance of Project Managers Suleiny Altamirano and Stephanie Sarantos, The Clearwater School  built trust with different communities by understanding unique cultural nuances and directly addressing language barriers to deliver health services effectively. This is their story.

Right from the beginning, The Clearwater School team recognized the value of community engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. They believe that truly impactful public health initiatives must meet people where they are, acknowledging and celebrating their uniqueness. Their mantra “leading with love” has underpinned their endeavors and set the course for their outreach initiatives. 

In their quest to bring COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and education to marginalized populations, The Clearwater School turned to cultural hubs like grocery stores and community centers. They recognized that their mission couldn’t be solely about efficiency; how many tests and vaccines could they provide. It was first focused on building trust with different communities and nurturing relationships. They understood that in many cultures, building a trusting relationship with healthcare providers was as critical as the service itself. 

With this in mind, they found an unorthodox, yet effective, partner in a bustling local Mexican grocery store, Los Gavilanes Market, in Everett, Washington. A cultural hub for the Latine community, Los Gavilanes serves as more than a marketplace; it’s a place of shared heritage. Vibrantly stocked shelves with familiar foods and ingredients, aisles filled with Spanish conversations, and the smells of traditional foods and spices, all create an environment that feels like a slice of home in a foreign land for its diverse Latine customers. The Clearwater School saw an opportunity to connect public health resources to a cultural hub like Los Gavilanes.

An individual wearing a black coat and a black mask is seated on a chair outside 'Los Gavilanes,' a Mexican grocery store in Everett, Washington. The photo was taken on May 27, 2023. Next to them, there's a table with a stack of COVID-19 tests. The person is facing the camera.

Los Gavilanes – Mexican grocery store, Everett, Washington. May 27,2023.

Partnering with the grocery store, The Clearwater School distributed COVID-19 tests and offered onsite vaccination clinics through Care-a-Van, a mobile health clinic serving people across Washington state. Conversations in native languages with Spanish-speaking team members from The Clearwater School fostered an atmosphere of trust and familiarity breaking down barriers of language and accessibility that often impede marginalized communities. The store provided space in their adjacent juice bar next to the grocery store for the vaccine clinic. Outside the store doors, The Clearwater School distributed tests and directed people to the mobile clinic. The store’s employees, with their deep understanding of the culture and language of their patrons, became invaluable allies in the outreach. They effectively communicated the importance of testing and vaccinations, alleviated fears, and clarified misconceptions. Suddenly, amidst the grocery shopping, customers were able to access vital COVID-19 services from relatable people in a place that was familiar and comfortable. 

Another shining example of The Clearwater School commitment to honoring cultural diversity was their adaptability during a Pacific Islander cultural event, including many participants from the Marshallese community. This event required more than merely acknowledging cultural differences—it involved deeply understanding and navigating them. What stood out was the clear difference in perceptions of time and efficiency. The Marshallese community had a different approach towards time, which was more relaxed and fluid.

TCS in the community

 A COVID-19 and Flu vaccine clinic, with masked staff members assisting two individuals with the sign-up process.

Health Fair at Silver Creek Family Church. April 1,2023.

A Juneteenth Event at Cedar Valley Elementary in Lynnwood, Washington. June 19, 2023.

A Juneteenth Event at Cedar Valley Elementary in Lynnwood, Washington. June 19, 2023.

The event did not adhere to a rigid timetable, but rather flowed organically, reflecting the community’s cultural norms. It thus became an experience in redefining efficiency – not as a rigid standard, but as a flexible concept that could accommodate the specific cultural preferences of the community being served. Building on this insight, The Clearwater School refined its approach. They actively engaged with community norms and timings, ensuring that during subsequent events, logistical issues didn’t hinder the seamless provision of COVID-19 resources. This emphasis on cultural respect and understanding transformed their outreach, making it significantly impactful.

The Clearwater School leveraged a network of 45 community-based organizations including WAGRO,  Mujeres con Actitud Latina, and RISNW to bring COVID-19 services to Korean, Latine, African, and Chinese communities in Washington. Their model of meeting people where they are and building trust through cultural bridges, helped bring COVID-19 testing and vaccination services to marginalized communities in 10 cities in King, Snohomish and Skagit counties.  They hosted 200 events, mobilized 114 volunteers and distributed over 32,000 tests and 100 vaccines.

From filling gaps in COVID-19 testing and vaccine accessibility, preventative health measures, such as blood pressure and blood sugar screenings, to tackling the issue of perceived lack of insurance, the school continues to create solutions. Looking ahead, The Clearwater School is dedicated to its mission to champion change. They embody the belief that a healthier, fairer future isn’t just an aspiration, but a goal that’s reachable—one community at a time.

For more information about the work of The Clearwater School be sure to visit their website.

Interested in learning how our community partners are making a difference? Keep an eye out for our upcoming spotlights to learn more about their work within their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.