Fifty state legislators came through White Pine Charter School Monday morning to see some of the things being taught by the school’s STEM program.
The state senators and representatives were given a tour of the new location of the STEM Academy, which began teaching middle and high school classes in August. White Pine was the only school that was included in the two-day legislative bus tour currently making its way through the Idaho Falls area and legislators seemed impressed with the school’s results.
“This is the place to experiment with lessons and figure out what things work for students. Ideas that work here can help with the rest of our schools,” state Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said.
After the legislators arrived, school leaders spoke to them about the success the charter program had seen so far. Principal Jeremy Clarke said the school had been working towards adding high school classes soon after it first opened because of the feedback they’d heard from students after they graduated and began at public high schools.
“The kids we were dropping off at the school door were about two years ahead. This created a void in their education and improvement,” Clarke said.
White Pine has 140 students enrolled in the STEM Academy and around 300 students in the elementary classes. Earlier this year, it was rated as the top-performing charter school in eastern Idaho in the State Department of Education’s annual report cards.
The legislative group was split in half, with 25 touring through some of the classrooms set up in portable modular classrooms and 25 staying in the main building for a first-grade science demonstration.
The six first-grade students gathered around a table in the school’s cafeteria to share the facts about the heart that they had learned over the last few weeks. Then the kids showed off a science project they had made in class — a jar topped with a rubber seal that could be pushed to pump blood out of a straw.
Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, was impressed by the demonstration. She told the students that they knew more about how the heart functioned than many of the patients she had treated for cardiac issues as a nurse. She later said that while White Pine looked very different than the charter schools she had visited in Coeur d’Alene, it offered similar benefits for the kids and the community.
“I think it’s really important that we can offer classes like this because one type of school doesn’t fit all of our students,” Souza said.
Members of the school’s student council led the other group of legislators into two of the classrooms to show how White Pine had implemented its technology. An augmented virtual reality system was being used to offer interactive lessons on the periodic table of elements. One classroom was dedicated to the computer lab, where teenagers were earning certificates in using Microsoft and Adobe systems.