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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

June 13, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Tech-based high school sending 98 percent of grads to college

The national landscape in science and math education is so spotty that federal advisers warn it could have serious repercussions for the U.S. economy. No surprise, then, public schools devoted to these subjects are starting to attract a lot of attention.

One of them, Toppenish High, will be the subject of Sunday’s Education Lab story for a number of notable qualities.

Another, Riverpoint Academy in Spokane’s Mead School District, stands out as much for its heartening results (64 out of 65 graduating seniors are headed to college) as for its unusual approach to teaching. Aimed only at juniors and seniors, Riverpoint gathers its students in an enormous hangar-like room each morning, where they peel off to work on team engineering projects all day.

There are no traditional subject classes or regular class periods (except for math, which is taught first thing each morning). Instead, students spend four hours on “Human-Centered Design,” which includes a half-credit of social studies and environmental science. And then “Inventioneering,” which includes English, science, computer coding and social studies.

Principal Danette Driscoll, formerly Mead’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, had become so frustrated with traditional education that she took a hefty pay cut to leave the district office and lead Riverpoint, which opened in September 2012.

“We do things outside the box,” said Riverpoint’s valedictorian, Grayson Sinclair, 18, at the school’s first graduation ceremony last week. He urged his fellow graduates to keep going, even when thwarted: “Science would be pretty boring if we weren’t wrong about something every single time,” he said.

But as in scientific experimentation itself, the future at Riverpoint is far from assured.

Because the school’s enrollment projection for next fall is 25 students shy of the numbers needed, staff face about $150,000 in funding cuts, and Driscoll may no longer be at the helm.

Sinclair, who is headed to the UW as a computer science major in the fall, might offer his teachers the same advice he gave to the graduating class:

“When you learn that, in order to move forward with your current idea, you must create a working prototype of your concept for a fusion-powered, self-sustained, hydroponic, antineoplastic, nanobot fabrication device made from 100 percent recycled yard waste … and you decide it’s probably time to change your idea to something that would be feasible before the year 2350, that’s okay,” he said. “We’re going to have to adapt.”

Comments | More in News | Topics: Riverpoint Academy, STEM, Toppenish High School

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