iDEA: Celebrating our First Year

iDEA: Celebrating our First Year

In 2015, a group of developers from Tacoma’s Public School of the Arts and the Science and Math Institute came together with a common goal: To create a brand new innovative school to give students the specialized education that they deserve. iDEA, or the school of Industrial Design Engineering and Art, is the youngest of three Elements of Education partner schools in Tacoma. Its older siblings SOTA and SAMi have both been met with much success over the years, totaling in with over 1,000 incoming students between the two. It is from these projects that a board of experienced developers drew the inspiration to make an entirely new school concentrated on combining the focuses of its predecessors, while still keeping those pillars of Thinking, Empathy, Community and Balance close to heart.

This team consisted of Jon Ketler, Kristin Tinder, Jaleesa Trapp, Melissa Moffett, Zach Varnell and Doris Conrath. These individuals all knew each other quite well after years of brainstorming and project planning together for the Elements of Education partner schools. Even though each and every member had a full tool belt of knowledge and experience, making this third school into a reality, they knew, would still be a massive undertaking. There were spaces to lease, community partners to find, teachers to hire, and students to recruit. The group of six, through diligence and tireless work, made this all happen before iDEA opened its doors in August of 2016. The 125 current freshmen and 17 faculty members have set up shop in Tacoma’s repurposed Park Avenue Elementary School building. Even in its first year, iDEA is off to a great start with the community and its curriculum.

Whereas SOTA caters to the Kahlo's and Spielberg’s, and SAMi to the Isaac Newton’s, iDEA is home to the da Vinci’s of our city. Each Elements of Education partner school has a set of majors or “pathways” (e.g. natural sciences, theater, songwriting and recording, etc.) that a student takes classes in before selecting a single major in their junior year. iDEA has four pathways: Computer science, engineering, visual design, and video production and animation. Students have Math, Science, and Humanities classes along with various electives on their eight period schedule. These elective courses such as woodworking and computer science are the Industrial and Engineering part of iDEA, while graphic design and video production are the Design and Art. Staff and teachers have worked to create this school and its course material, which are both ever-developing entities. Of course, they are not alone in their efforts.

What makes iDEA so different from other high schools, including its siblings, is the involvement of community organizations with its classes and students. SOTA and SAMI both have sprawling campuses situated respectively across downtown Tacoma and in Point Defiance Park. iDEA’s grounds do not cover the same amount of acreage as its predecessors, and therefore does not offer the same access to neighboring businesses. What is the fix? The school’s community resources are instead built into it instead of around it. Companies like Second Cycle, a non-profit bicycle store and program, have created shops inside of iDEA’s building, while organizations such as the LeMay Car Museum are partnered with the school to teach classes and design curricula. To have involvement from older professionals in a student’s prospective line of work in an invaluable educational asset. It is with these community partners that the first freshman class of iDEA have made and will continue to make history.

There is a general sense of pride that iDEA students feel about their school. The class has come so far in developing culture where one had not existed only nine months ago, and is preparing to welcome in the graduating class of 2021 into the environment they have built from scratch. These young adults are all fueled by a passion to create something new, both in the sense of wood, metal, and applied sciences, and in the sense of their school setting. The legacy that these students and the staff, teachers, and community partners that support has already done its part to take up several pages in the annals of our city’s history. These are, after all, the same people who may just go on to write the code and design the foundation of our future.

Thanks to all of our partners who have been instrumental in making iDEA a huge success in its first year:

We’d love to give a shout out to all of the organizations who have been so instrumental in making iDEA a success in its first year:

  • Ansys, Inc. (a physics-based test modeling software company)

  • PB&A Designs  (an industrial design company that focuses on high-end furniture)

  • Echo People Designs (an industrial design company that builds bicycle frames and primarily works with metal)

  • VFE Custom (a guitar pedal electronics company)

  • Bootstrapper Studios (a mobile live-streaming broadcast company)

  • Second Cycle (a non-profit community bicycle shop)

  • Alchemy Skateboarding (a non-profit that teaches youth advocacy and community engagement through skateboarding)

BRIDGE

BRIDGE

Elements of Education Partner Schools stand on four pillars: Community, Balance, Thinking, and Empathy. Community and Empathy are exhibited daily at SAMi and SOTA through an elective course called BRIDGE. BRIDGE is a semester long class where Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors take on a role comparable to that of a teacher’s assistant. They take part in a class to do what their name suggests: Serve to bridge the gap between student and teacher. Heather Olmstead and Stacee Flynn currently teach the class, although BRIDGE has been offered at SAMi since its first year, when freshmen comprised the entire school. The success of this program warrants its amount of participants and longevity.

SOTAbots Robotics Team

SOTAbots Robotics Team

It is no easy task to turn your aspirations into reality. SOTAbots team 2557’s incessant devotion to engineering and club management has made them successful in this pursuit of their goals. The combined group of students from SOTA, SAMi, and iDEA defines dedication and self-sufficiency through the robots they build from scratch, and the mark that they make on the Tacoma community.

In 2007, robotics teacher Ken Luthy of SOTA started the club with about 10-15 students. Now, the numbers of members who meet in SOTA’s downtown Tacoma 1950 building have risen to about fifty, with every individual using their skill sets to best suit the company. Most arrive as freshmen or sophomores and leave only once they have graduated. Sara Siemens-Luthy (SAMi Outdoor Ed teacher and Luthy’s wife) has also joined the team as a coach. I was unable to speak with either coach, but several team members, and mentor Dafydd Rhys-Jones (known also as Bishop), were very willing to tell me about the goings-on in the club. 

Adventures & Applications (A&A)

Adventures & Applications (A&A)

Fridays at Sami, Sota and Idea are host to two one-of-a-kind classes: Mentor group, and Adventures and Applications. A&A works to broaden the individual student’s perspective by offering a deeper look into a topic of their choice. 

After lunch ends at 1:20, we make our ways to our chosen A&A classes where we will stay until school lets out at 3:20. (However, seniors , juniors in their second semester, have Junior/Senior Breakouts in place of an A&A.) While it is much like mini and microterm, this Friday-only class takes place almost exclusively at the student’s home school. Popular SAMi A&A’s include Makerspace, creative shop class lead by Johnny Devine, Superbridges, a mentorship program for high school students to get to know elementary school students, and any one of the political science or psychology courses taught by Matthew Sherls. A number of other classes are one shots with students who fit into a certain niche in mind. These include topics such as video game design, mathematical art, and exploration of the outdoors. Even if none of the descriptions on the course catalogue appeal to a student, there is always the chance to expand your horizons.

Miniterm at SOTA, SAMI, and IDEA

Miniterm at SOTA, SAMI, and IDEA

After the craziness of December finals, January at SAMi, SOTA, and now iDEA comes with a complete change of course for students and staff alike: Miniterm. This month-long extensive course takes place at any of the three Elements of Education campuses. Comparable to the week-long “Microterm” at the end of the school year in June, Miniterm offers both a break from the usual, and extensive concentration on a unique subject of the student’s choosing.

Traditionally, science-focused courses took place at SAMi, while art-focused courses took at SOTA. Now we have iDEA thrown into the mix. This new school serves to fill the gaps that its successor schools’ facilities could not. Its workshops provide an alternate location to the SOTABots team and several other shop-oriented classes. iDEA teachers have also teamed up with teachers from their sister schools to combine their expertise into a single course. (E.g. The Sports Science of Lacrosse and Golf, The LEGO Miniterm, and Who is Telling Your Story? among others.)

Outdoor Education

Outdoor Education

One of the most unique classes I’ve taken at SAMi so far was Outdoor Education. Every Tuesday and Thursday of the fall semester my freshman year, I hiked the trails of Point Defiance Park with 20 other students, led by teacher Maria Jost. This course is one that only SAMi has to offer. It provided me, and many others who have taken it, with an enhanced respect for our park and its flora.

The Importance of Mentor Groups

The Importance of Mentor Groups

I first met my mentor group (Carol Brouillette’s “Brouilletians”) at camp of my freshman year. All of the older students intimidated me at first. While almost none of us are very big in size, every one of the upperclassmen I saw looked so much more mature, in one way or another, than the students I’d met in middle school. Some were loud, some were quiet, some seemed gentle and others abrasive. They all formed a cast of characters of a type I’d never seen before. By the end of those three days of camp, however, I felt included. I did not share the same memories and experiences as the upperclassmen did, but I began to connect with them. In my cabin were the two other freshman girls in my group plus a sophomore girl, and I got to know them more by talking with them during cabin readings and before bed. I left for home still feeling anxious about the upcoming year. However, I left feeling just a bit less alone. 

Diversity at SOTA

Diversity at SOTA

I’ve been to eight different schools since elementary school, in different states, but SOTA is the only school that I have attended that has no separation no matter gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, and ability. Often in schools today, students with a disability, or any form of being different, are put in different classes. Even though they are working on their developmental skills, being put in these classes they are deprived of the ‘social experience’ a kid should have. Not only does this affect their social skills amongst peers, this can also affect their social life during adulthood.