Gibson Ek High School will soon graduate its inaugural class. Gibson Ek opened September 2016 to freshmen and sophomores. By the 2018-19 school year, Gibson Ek hosted a full student population spanning grades 9-12.
Gibson Ek is a Big Picture School. The Big Picture model implements project-based curriculum and focuses on the “big picture” of student education and emphasizes transferable skills.
Other Washington schools who follow the Big Picture model include Bellevue, Federal Way, Quincy, Gig Harbor, Chelan and Twisp.
Gibson Ek High School’s inaugural class includes 18 seniors. Julia Bamba, Gibson Ek’s principal, said she’s proud of the seniors.
“It’s been great to have these guys have the energy and courage to be a part of something that was so new,” she said. “We didn’t have everything set up and ready to go on their first day of school, and they were patient and flexible while we were all still figuring this out.”
Despite early challenges in their first year, the students are grateful to Gibson Ek for their high school experience.
Dana DeWhitt, an inaugural senior, said her time at Gibson Ek was illuminating.
“I did almost every kind of school there is. I was a homeschooled kid, did online school, went to public and private school…nothing really seemed to work,” she said. “Being here has really brought me out of the idea of having to be perfect all the time and let me work at my own pace.”
Jaime Cao, another senior, said she came to Gibson Ek after attending Skyline High School.
“It was just too big and overwhelming,” she said of Skyline.
Through her time at Gibson Ek, she said she is graduating knowing what she wants to do. Cao plans to attend New York University in the fall to pursue a degree in media and culture.
Like other students, senior Josh Feinsilber said he never felt comfortable at traditional high schools.
“I always kind of felt ‘off.’ It was hard to fit in,” he said. “I felt like I had to be someone else.”
As part of the Big Picture model, students pursue their interests and have more control over their learning. Big Picture schools require students to complete internships in fields they’re interested in throughout the community. Through internships and the overall Big Picture learning model, Gibson Ek students said they’ve changed the way they think about education.
“It really changed the way I think about learning,” DeWhitt said. “Learning doesn’t have to follow a certain path — it ebbs and flows, goes up and down and side-to-side. We’re able to spend more time on something that interests us and challenge ourselves.”
Through her time at Gibson Ek, she said she has realized that there are different pathways to explore. DeWhitt will be working for Mechatronics, Inc. after graduation.
Feinsilber mirrored DeWhitt’s response. “We’re able to take learning into our own hands while being in a safe environment,” he said. “You get to learn for yourself, be your own motivator and control what you want to do.”
Gibson Ek’s graduation will be held at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center on June 12.