When it comes to integrating digital tools into the classroom as a way to prepare young minds for the careers of tomorrow, few are setting the bar like Vancouver Public Schools. In fact, VPS is the only district in the nation to have been visited three times by the National School Boards Association for its use of technology in a learning environment.
Despite its national reputation, district officials know there is always room for improved learning, especially when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Now one school in particular is turning to the business community for guidance.
Vancouver iTech Preparatory, a magnet school for 6-12 graders, kicked off its second year this week. The school, located inside the Jim Parsley Community Center (middle school students) and the Clark College building on the Washington State University Vancouver campus (high school students), relies on project-based instruction. Each of its students (admitted via lottery) receive their own laptop, working in a curriculum directly related to STEM careers.
“We came into it thinking that most of the students use technology to explore their world either through social media or gaming,” said iTech Principal Christina Iremonger, when asked about lessons learned from the school’s inaugural year. “What we found is that yes they do that, but they also have an enormous capacity to use technology to envision the possibilities of the world; to design and create solutions for issues that really are relevant to them.”
Heading into the 2013-2014 school year, Iremonger said a major focus will actually be on iTech’s teachers and making sure students have the freedom to explore and to be creative with new technology.
“The students have the ability these days to adapt so quickly and readily to the technology,” she said. “It takes the adults a little longer to learn it, so it’s really nice to have a flexible staff that can say to a student, ‘I don’t know everything there is to know about that program, but it looks really interesting in how you want to use it this way to solve this problem.’”
This spirit of exploration continues in the type of business partnerships that the school is looking for. Last year, private sector professionals involved with iTech ranged from Clark Public Utilities’ engineers to VA hospital administrators.
“It’s wide open,” she said. “We don’t want to limit the options for our students, and our students have a variety of interests. There isn’t one particular interest that all our students share.
“We’re interested in any business partnership where a business feels like they could learn to rely on our students for that creativity and productivity that I talked about,” Iremonger added. “We’re developing strong 21st century skills – those skills around communication and collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creativity. And so we think our students have something to offer.”
Iremonger said business participation at iTech is welcome at both high school and middle school levels. Businesses can present students with the ongoing challenges they face, or simply share their own insights and expertise. To get involved, contact Dana Selby, partnership coordinator, at 360.313.5200.