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 sisters 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 old Park Avenue Elementary School building. Even in its first year, iDEA is off to a great start with the community and with 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 the 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)