Accessibility Tools (CTRL+U)
Hide the tools

After hiding the tool, if you would like to re-enable it, just press CTRL+U to open this window. Or, move your cursor near the tool to display it.

Currently Reading:

Lute Powered: PLU alumni help lead Chief Leschi programs dedicated to student support and success

Lute Powered: PLU alumni help lead Chief Leschi programs dedicated to student support and success

Posted by:
(From Left) Melanie Helle, Nancy Nelson, and Jenifer Leavens stand shoulder to shoulder in the lobby of Chief Leschi. They are all smiling and wearing Chief Leschi gear.

Image: (From Left) Melanie Helle, Nancy Nelson, and Jenifer Leavens are PLU alumni and administrative directors at Chief Leschi. (Photos by Sy Bean/PLU)

April 4, 2023

Operated by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Chief Leschi Schools enrolls 670 students in preschool through high school. Visual representations of Northwest Native culture and art are present throughout the school, and the curriculum is infused with the tribe’s cultural heritage. Chief Leschi is one of the largest tribal schools funded by the federal Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and it operates under both a BIE Tribally Controlled Grant and a Washington state Tribal Education Compact.

Three PLU alumni serve as Chief Leschi administrators, leading programs dedicated to student support and success.

Melanie Helle ’97, Director of Special Services

Melanie Helle believes that every student needs the right opportunity to show what they know, in the way that works for them.“We’re missing out on allowing all students to shine.That’s kind of my big “Ah-ha” in special services,” she says. “We can’t have a label that holds anybody back.”

At Chief Leschi, Helle says, it’s hard for any student — even those with special needs — to fall through the cracks. That’s in part because of the nature of the preschool through high school program, which serves 670 students. “We genuinely care about every single kid,” she says. “All students are embraced.”

Read our full Melanie Helle ’97 feature.

Melanie Helle smiles for a portrait while standing in a beautiful lobby space at Chief Leschi Schools. She has long dark hair and is wearing a bright blue fleece jacket.
Nancy Nelson ’93: Director of Career and Technical Education

Nancy Nelson joined Chief Leschi as director of career and technical education (CTE) in 2020. The CTE program was new, and she worked hard to get it established and funded. “CTE focuses on hands-on applied learning,” Nelson says. “It gives kids a real connection to what they might do for a job.”

The program offers student five career pathways, all aligned with tribal entities. CTE also helps high school students toward graduation. “CTE is one piece of a big puzzle” that’s helping get kids across the finish line, Nelson says. “It’s exciting to be part of a group of people making change for kids.”

Read our full Nancy Nelson ’93 feature.

Nancy Nelson leans on bannister in the main lobby of Chief Leschi Schools. There is a large navy blue tribal mural on the wall behind her. she is smiling and wearing a black jacket with the school logo on it.
Jenifer Leavens ’18: Elementary Assistant Principal

Jenifer Leavens joined Chief Leschi Schools in 2019, first as dean of students and then moving into her current position as elementary assistant principal, where she oversees between 250 and 300 students in preschool through grade five. She sees her primary role at Chief Leschi as building connections and helping students flourish in a school environment.

At a school devoted to teaching Native American children, Leavens says it’s important that students feel connected to each other as well as to their culture. “We are teaching kids to be true to themselves,” Leavens says, “even though they have to live in a world that is sometimes unjust or unfair.”

Read our full Jenifer Leavens ’18 feature.

Leavens smiles into the camera. she is wearing a bright blue sweatshirt that says 'CHIEF LESCHI' in white and gold letters.
Lute Powered is a story series highlighting PLU alumni at some of the most well-known organizations in the Puget Sound region.

Lute Powered: Amazon

Headshots of Jon, Reegan, and April Rose next to each other in a row.

Lute Powered: City of Tacoma

Three headshots side by side of Tom Chontofalsky '03, Clarissa Gines '12 and Lisa Woods '92. All three are smiling. Tom has the port of Tacoma behind him, Clarissa is standing in front of a mural, and Lisa is in her office with the downtown Tacoma in the background.

Lute Powered: MultiCare Health System

Lute Powered: Port of Tacoma and Northwest Seaport Alliance

A banner with three headshots of John Wolfe Eric Johnson and Mark Miller. Each are dressed business casual and standing in front of different backdrops around the Port of Tacoma.

Lute Powered: Educational Service District 113

PLU alumni Kristen Jaudon ‘94 standing on the left side of the image, Tracye Ferguson ‘94 is standing in the middle of th eimage and Kate Hall ‘17 stands in the right of the images and poses side by side in a group photo in front the Educational Service District 113 building. The image displays a sunny and bright day with all three subjects smiling at the camera.