#RethinkSchool: Community-Led School, Community-Wide Solutions

“North Idaho STEM Academy was created at the request of parents and the community.”

The first line of the school’s promotional video, found on its website, underscores a key – indeed, perhaps the most important — tenet of North Idaho STEM Academy: it was created for the community, and by the community.

Opened in September 2012, the school serves students in kindergarten through grade 12 in Rathdrum, Idaho, and surrounding areas. School leaders don’t consider STEM a “buzzword” or a fad; instead, teachers incorporate science, technology, engineering and math into everything that students learn and do – from kindergarten through graduation.

Students work on a project at North Idaho STEM Charter Academy.

The early grades, for example, have been featured in promotional materials for Lego StoryStarters, and were invited — as one of just two schools in the nation – to create a video using WeDo Legos in the classroom.

And, high school students boast some of the highest average SAT scores in the state, while enrolling in dual credit courses through North Idaho College.

At all levels, project-based learning opportunities are at the core of students’ day-to-day lessons – including work with NASA’s CubeSat Mission. CubeSats are small satellites developed by NASA that provide a low-cost pathway to conduct research in the STEM fields. In fact, North Idaho STEM Academy was chosen as the only high school in its cohort – along with colleges and universities like Cal Tech, the U.S. Naval Academy, Vanderbilt and others – to work alongside NASA and learn about radio waves, aeronautical engineering, space propulsion and geography.

Jessica Millard

For some students, like 2018 graduate Jessica Millard, the opportunity to engage in rigorous coursework and accompanying projects was “eye-opening.”

“I’m good at book work,” said Jessica. “The challenge for me was working on a team to accomplish a goal.”

Teamwork, too, is one of many skills North Idaho STEM Academy strives to develop in its students. The charter school seeks to develop character in their students, so they are prepared for the demands of college and the workplace.

Paige Pence, also a graduate in the class of ’18, credits North Idaho STEM Academy for teaching her about the world around her. “I’ve grown a lot as a person,” said Paige.

One of the many ways the school has helped students be successful is by tailoring the curriculum to meet the unique needs of students.

Paige, for example, said she went to a traditional public school until the fifth grade. Then, she switched to an online school – but she still wasn’t feeling challenged.

“I was shopping around for a school that was more personalized,” Paige said. She loves the smaller school environment, which allows for stronger connections between teachers and students, and among students themselves. “Building a family atmosphere is important.”

North Idaho STEM Academy students demonstrate their project to Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development Jim Blew during his Rethink School Tour visit.

But the strong school environment didn’t only improve the lives of individual students, Paige said. “Having a school like [North Idaho STEM Academy] made all the schools around us look at themselves and has improved the community as a whole.”

2018 graduate Joseph Benson said that, while North Idaho STEM Academy isn’t necessarily the right school for every student, “having the option for like-minded students to get together really helps.”

For many students in North Idaho – like Jessica, Joseph and Paige – with eyes toward a STEM career, North Idaho STEM Academy is just the right fit.

Note: As part of the Department of Education’s 2018 Rethink School Tour, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development Jim Blew visited North Idaho STEM Charter Academy this week.

 

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Additional note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. Check back on Thursdays for new posts in the series. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances. Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.