It was the school that started out as a new and somewhat radical experiment down a new path of education.
And on the morning of June 16, Gibson Ek advisors, students and mentors celebrated a very successful first school year for the Innovative High School.
The first school of its kind in the Issaquah School District, Gibson Ek does away with grades, strict class schedules and mandatory courses. Instead, students embark on a career-based pathway of learning that lets them pursue projects in subjects that they are interested in and hope to one day work in.
Two days per week, Gibson Ek students are not found on the Downtown Issaquah campus. Instead, they are out in the community at internships getting a taste of what it is like to work in the field of their choice.
At the June 16 breakfast, the student interns invited their mentors to campus to celebrate their experiences as the school year and internships come to an end.
“You’re really part of something special. You’re really part of something revolutionary,” Gibson Ek Learning Through Interest Coordinator David Berg told the mentors. “Nine months ago, this school started from nothing.”
Attendees at the breakfast heard students describe the large variety of fields in which they had completed their internships. Students worked at law firms, dentist offices, horse farms, art museums, theatres and churches. Some worked for large companies like GoDaddy and large nonprofits like the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, while others could be found at notable local entities, such as Village Theatre, the Downtown Issaquah Association and the Issaquah History Museums.
Calling attention to the fact that 40 percent of the school week is not spent in school, Berg emphasized that the businesses and organizations that have taken on Gibson Ek interns “are key stakeholders in the academic growth of these kids.”
Principal Julia Bamba explained that at Gibson Ek, “we really believe in tearing down the walls of the school” and getting students out of the classroom because “the world is the place to learn.”
“What students really want in their education is to one, find relevance … and two, be part of a great community where their voices can be heard,” Bamba said.
The idea behind an Innovative School like Gibson Ek is to give new opportunities to students who are bored or not challenged by a traditional classroom setting, or to students who feel like completing a checklist of high school classes has no relevance to their future careers.
The 120 students at Gibson Ek still have academic standards that they have to meet to graduate at the same level as students from Issaquah and Skyline High Schools. However, instead of having a set list of classes they must take, the Gibson Ek kids have a list of five competencies that they are required to meet in any way that they prefer, such as through a project of their choosing or through an online class.
Gibson Ek provides a much freer environment for students. Students call their instructors by their first names, and move about the two-story school freely as they work, not restricted to one classroom.