Gibson Ek High School, Issaquah, WA – January 22, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Gibson Ek High School, founded in 2016, is a public school to which students from the school district can apply for admission and are then selected by lottery.  The school follows a non-traditional learning model in which students earn academic competencies through hands-on projects rather than earning grades through courses, and 2 days a week students connect with mentors in the real world through internships.  Gibson Ek is sometimes called a “Big Picture” school, the name given to the school-design model which emphasizes project-based learning and internships over traditional grades and classes.  Gibson Ek is among more than 65 schools nationwide that have adopted this model.  (Locally, two other school districts also offer Big Picture schools.)

Since Gibson Ek has no traditional classes, most students attend school-facilitated internships 2 days a week while their other 3 school days have 4 main components:

Advisory. Students are assigned to a multi-age advisory group led by a certified teacher known as an advisor. The advisory is the space where students bond with a smaller group, plan and organize their project-based learning, and work on various requirements such as autobiography writing.

Exploration Time. This is the block of unstructured time in which students engage in their project work independently.  Advisors are available for advice or support but do not direct student’s work during this time.  Self-motivated students thrive during Exploration Time; others can find it challenging to complete work.

Content Time. Students work in quiet spaces on online math program or world language for one hour each day.

Design Labs. These are essentially month-long themed courses anchored by teacher-guided projects. Students select from a menu based on their interests.  Design Labs may include topics such as Ancient Civilizations, Forensics, Bridge Building, Literature Study, Photographic Storytelling, the Art of Persuasion, or Graphic Design.

The school’s focus on students is exemplified by the home page which, a short scroll from the top, showcases recent student experiences with photos and names of the participating students.

My talk at Gibson Ek was organized by 9th grade student, Carlos Kassner, as part of his Exploration Time (see above) and supported by teachers Tim Hemker and Hillary Nadell.  Attending the talk were also teachers Karin Walen, Robin Lowell and Casey Henry, and it was arranged by Julia Thompson, Education Resource Coordinator of the Holocaust Center for Humanity. 


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