Hawks Scholarship Awards Record Amount to PHS Seniors

Thirty-eight years after a group of parents decided to reward a handful of students, their fund has become one of the largest in the state.


One hundred and thirty-four graduating Peninsula High School seniors received $366,800 in scholarships at the Peninsula Hawks Scholarship Fund award ceremony May 18. Fifty scholarship winners were from the Key Peninsula.

“It’s more money than we’ve ever awarded,” said Hayley Nichols, scholarship donor chair and Evergreen Elementary School alumna. The scholarship fund is one of the largest in the state, according to the Peninsula School District.

The fund was founded in 1984 by a group of PHS parents who wanted to provide more recognition to seniors at a time when the school was losing students to then recently opened Gig Harbor High. That first year they awarded $5,000.

Any PHS senior planning to attend any type of accredited educational institution, vocational or academic, is eligible for a Hawks Scholarship. Students apply by submitting portfolios including their academic records, community service resumes, personal statements, and recommendations. Every student who successfully applies receives at least one scholarship.

The pandemic affected the fund’s finances but not how it was run, according to Nichols.

After a slight drop last year, “this year a lot of donors raised the amount they gave, and we’ve got half a dozen new donors, so that was pretty exciting,” she said.

Another effect of the pandemic was that more students than in years past have not claimed the scholarships they were awarded starting in 2020, the first year of COVID-19 and remote learning. 

“They only have 18 months to use their scholarships, so they need to extend it,” Nichols said. “It’s pretty easy, you just need to let us know. We’ve done outreach to every single student who didn’t use their scholarship, and that’s a pretty lengthy process.” 

Another change is the content of portfolios students submit.

“A lot of kids struggled with mental health of their own as well as their peers,” Nichols said. “Several of the students specified wanting to go into social work and the mental health professions. I see kids are less interested in going to school to make money; it’s more about ‘how do we solve these bigger problems?’ ”

She said there was also a change in what students wanted to pursue and what donors wanted to encourage.

“There’s a shift toward kids moving to vocational,” Nichols said. “Ten or so donors specifically asked for someone going into a trade school. In particular, The Longbranch Foundation has doubled its involvement over the years to fund additional scholarships for this group of students. So, it’s not about sending the top people to college, it’s more supporting the kids in what they want to do.”

The fund is supported by local donors — including 18 on the Key Peninsula — and income from the Seahawks Academic and Vocational Education (SAVE) Thrift Store, located at 1401 Purdy Drive in an old fire station below the high school. This year the store contributed $65,000 to the fund, more than ever before.

“The store has great merchandise and they’re very selective about what’s there, so it’s a great place for treasure hunters,” Nichols said. 

School groups or clubs also have their own scholarships funded by volunteering at the store. 

“Students come in and volunteer and we take that money and earmark it for their group to select a scholarship; they can earn up to $1,500,” Nichols said. “A lot of the clubs don’t know this — we’ve got band and baseball and soccer and stuff — but any club can do a scholarship for a graduating senior.” 

The store is also looking for another paid team member who wants to work three or four days a week.

“The other thing that’s changed over the last couple of years is the volunteer situation,” she said. “Most of the people on the (Hawks Scholarship) board don’t even have students at Peninsula anymore. Some have not had kids in school for over a decade. We’re just keeping the program going and we’re waiting for parents of new students to come in and take over.” 

Nichols herself is in her ninth year on the board. Her youngest child graduated from PHS last year.

“It’s a pretty buttoned-up organization; we’ve got a good system of who does what when,” she said. “It’s the most rewarding organization I’ve ever been a part of. It’s just a really beautiful thing.” 

The PHS class of 2022 will graduate at the Tacoma Dome June 18.

For more on the history of the Peninsula Hawk Scholarship Fund, go to keypennews.org/stories/peninsula-hawks-scholarship