Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series designed to highlight student voices and experiences from throughout the district.
When Te'Aijza Robinson is asked which subject in school she most enjoys, she replies “not math,” giggling for a moment before giving her real answer: culinary arts. The Liberty High School senior says she loves the class because teacher Zarah Matsuda has made her feel comfortable and supported her throughout her time at Liberty.
“As I have had the privilege of getting to know Te'Aijza over the past few years, in culinary, I was immediately impressed with her authenticity. She is a true leader who will speak her mind and is equally open to listen, learn and accept feedback,” Matsuda says. “She is a student full of creative ideas, and she puts those ideas into action in various elements of our class & cafe on a regular basis.”
Robinson joined the Issaquah School District after moving here from Tacoma in the eighth grade and enrolling at Maywood Middle School.
Outside of Matsuda and her Culinary Arts 3 class, Robinson experiences a similar level of support when she visits her school counselor, Robin Klym. Robinson checks in with Klym frequently, sometimes for social emotional support and sometimes just to chat.
“I love her so much,” Robinson says. She describes Klym as someone who supports her, inside and outside of the classroom. This is a big deal for Robinson – whose peers (and some staff members) occasionally give her a difficult time for falling asleep in class.
What they sometimes don’t understand is that Robinson is diagnosed with narcolepsy with cataplexy – a daytime sleeping disorder. Before Robinson connected with Klym for help, she occasionally had a hard time forming positive and trusting relationships with teachers and classmates. She goes as far as to say that she considers Klym family. “She’s been everything to me,” Robinson said. “[She is] my hype man for sure ... gives tough love when I need it,” she says. “When it feels like someone is not there for you, it’s good to know that there is someone [at school] who is there for you.”
Klym admires Robinson, too. “Te'Aijza has such a kind heart, and she is always willing to help her friends,” Klym says. “She is an advocate for other students and isn't afraid to stand up for what she believes. She is one of the most resilient students I have worked with in my career. She is strong, independent, a natural leader and incredibly smart!”
Now Robinson has medication that helps her stay awake during school the school day, and although it helps keep her from falling asleep and reduces the number of hurtful comments she receives from peers, it hasn’t solved everything.
Klym says Robinson is resilient in difficult times. “I love that despite her struggles and obstacles in life, she continues to have a positive attitude,” she says. “Some days, I'm not sure how she does it. I always tell her how amazing she is!”
When asked what keeps her positive, Robinson replies “Having people around me like Ms. Klym and Ms. Matsuda.”
Classes like culinary arts are also a big part of what's working for Robinson at school. She recognizes the benefits of engaging in culinary arts, and says it helps reduce the effects of her condition, because students and staff are moving around and staying busy preparing food.
While she loves culinary arts as a subject at school, cooking isn't Robinson's favorite thing in the world. But, dessert is a different story.
“I hate cooking, but I love baking sweets” says Robinson, explaining that there is a difference between the two. According to Robinson, her grandmother’s strong passion for baking originally sparked her interest in culinary arts – and joining the culinary programs at Liberty has only piqued her interest even more.
The end of her high school years are coming up fast, but Robinson has already begun planning for life after graduation – and her heart is currently set on culinary school. “I’m debating between Jacinto Community College or the Culinary Institute Lenotre,” she says. Both schools are located in Texas, where some of her family lives. Robinson is still deciding which school she’d like to attend, but one thing she knows for certain is that she is eager to call Texas home, at least for a few years.
Robinson and Klym have worked together since Robinson was a freshman at Liberty, where Klym has served as a counselor for about 10 years.
“We've been together for 3.5 years – will be all four years when she graduates in June, and I [will] cry my eyes out watching her walk across the stage!” says Klym.
Fortunately graduation is still a few months away, so the two have a bit more time together.
“It's truly been a blessing to watch her grow into the confident and beautiful young woman she is today. I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity with her!”
Robinson was recently featured in an MLK video tribute by Liberty High School that honors Martin Luther King Jr., which the school showcased last week. In the photo: Robinson in front of Liberty's L'Cafe, where culinary arts students prepare and serve beverages, baked goods and other dishes.