Avanti’s Haunted School Spooks Olympia for 4th Year in a Row

Avanti haunted school
There is a whole room of cobwebs that visitors will need to navigate in Avanti's Haunted School. Photo credit: Ainsley Austin

The thrills of Halloween are unmistakable ­– delighted shrieks in the distance, cobwebs looping over everything in sight and sugar-fueled excitement. One tradition both kids and adults enjoy is the annual haunted house visit. And, a staple Halloween haunted house in our community is Avanti High School’s Haunted School. This is the fourth year the school has hosted the event and it’s known for being exceptionally scary and fun.

haunted house, olympia
Arachnophobia? watch out for the many different sizes of spiders found throughout the haunted school. Photo credit: Ainsley Austin

The students in charge of making the haunted school come to life are all part of a class during Avanti’s first quarter. The class is taught by John Hanby, English teacher and leader of the haunted school since it began in 2014. During fourth period, the 16-student class works tirelessly to transform Avanti. The old locker rooms, fondly dubbed “the dungeon,” are the highlight of the event. Even in broad daylight, with about a dozen people bustling around, the basement has a creepy atmosphere and it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular every fall.

Liam M., an Avanti sophomore, is a participant in the haunted school class and says he’s “really excited to see people’s reactions” and “loves seeing people’s scared faces, but that also that they’re having a good time.” The patrons’ joy and fear is definitely what drives the students to spend hours creating their masterpiece. Part of their classwork involves learning the elements of horror and how to make all aspects of the event as scary as possible.

Avanti's haunted school
Sophmore Liam M. sets up his room for the haunted school at Avanti High School. Photo credit: Ainsley Austin

Something that really sets the haunted school apart is how visitors follow a narrative story as they navigate through Avanti’s halls. The plot is different every year and students are always excited to showcase their creativity and personalities. “What I think is cool about our haunted house is that we try to provide a really diverse experience of different things someone could find scary,” Liam says. “It’s not just jump-scare after jump-scare, there’s a lot of psychological things that are really chilling.”

The students’ creative freedom is an important part, too. Their fearless leader, John Hanby, says it’s one of his favorite parts. “I love the creativity, the imagination, the playfulness. I love the teamwork and the way it brings the community together,” he shares. It hasn’t always been easy to bring the community in, however. When the haunted school started in 2014, it was difficult to convey to the community that they would have a good time, despite the creepiness.

John Hanby and a fellow Avanti teacher, Kate Thedell, started the haunted school as an annual fundraiser. The funds raised are support the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival field trip. The AP English class at Avanti, as well as several other interested students, raise money all year to lower the per-student price of the trip. The group drives to Ashland, Oregon (approximately 16 miles north of the California border) every June and spends a weekend in the quaint, theater-oriented town.

olympia haunted house
Avanti High School is located inside an almost 100-year-old building making it a perfect backdrop for a haunted house. Photo credit: Jessica Hoppe.

Even though the reasons for doing the event have been consistent since it started, Nikki Winkley, math and PE teacher at Avanti, says that it has improved every year. “It’s gotten cooler,” she says, “The kids are more invested in this and that’s the best part.” The students are self-directed and motivated to learn about horror and suspense to create characters, Winkley explains. “It just keeps getting better.” The Avanti student and staff take pride in the haunted school. “Every school has their thing,” says Winkley, and the distinctive flavor of Avanti’s “thing” fits right into the school’s culture.

Avanti is an alternative learning program and the haunted school is one way they embrace each student’s talents. “I love getting to do special effects we don’t typically get to do in a stage production,” says Hanby. The haunted school is a creative outlet for Avanti students and they embrace it as an interesting form of art that is constantly evolving. If you have attended the haunted school before, you may see some of the same students, but never the same story.

The haunted school knits the community together at the start of every school year. Students new and old come together to create the complex story. Tim M., a student at Avanti, is participating in the haunted school for the first time. He says he is excited for “just experiencing it” and to “scare people I know.” Will W., a student working with Tim, agrees. “I’m really excited for people to see my creation,” he says.

haunted house, olympia
This room is in progress downstairs at Avanti where students are using their creepy creativity to create psychological thrills along with traditional “jump-scares.” Photo credit: Ainsley Austin

Even if patrons aren’t thrilled with getting scared, it’s easy to appreciate the time and effort these students and teachers put into the haunted school every Halloween. To people planning to attend, be aware both strobe lights and fog machines are utilized and the recommended age is 12+. It is suggested to arrive early at this popular event. Also note that the haunted school is less scary earlier in the evening as it is lighter outside. Admission is $7 and you can receive scary face paint for an additional $7. All funds are considered donations directly to students attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in June.

Avanti High School’s Haunted School
1113 Legion Way SE in Olympia
October 19-21, 26-28 – 5:30-8:30 p.m.
$7 with optional $7 face paint
Warnings: Strobe lights and fog machines, recommended for ages 12+

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