Fast, clear connection at iTech Preparatory

Vancouver's new STEM school boasts high-speed rise in national profile

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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photoChristina Iremonger, principal of Vancouver's iTech Preparatory, shares success stories Friday at a national conference.

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PORTLAND — Three years ago, Vancouver Public Schools studied models of science-oriented schools. This year, the district's new STEM school is the model.

Just a year after opening iTech Preparatory in fall 2012, the school has been contacted by districts all over the country, said Christina Iremonger, principal.

On Friday, the school's teachers and administrators shared their success story at the National Science Teachers Conference in Portland. Thousands of science teachers from around the country gathered to learn the latest in science education.

The iTech Preparatory team focused on how it has built relationships with engineers, architects and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals and has invited them into the classroom.

"Getting partners into the classroom gives kids an authentic learning experience," said Leslie Simpson, who is charged with reaching out to STEM professionals. "The partners connect school to real life."

Professionals from Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, Waste Management and the Mount St. Helens Institute have taught at iTech Preparatory. Engineers from Clark Public Utilities taught students about solar power and wind energy. A student's father, who is a team leader at Hewlett-Packard, spoke to the students about creativity and the brain. Another parent, a Boeing engineer, trained the iTech Prep teachers.

"Some of the most powerful learning opportunities have come through these partnerships," Simpson said.

In addition to bringing professionals into the classroom, the staff also organizes trips to provide opportunities for students to meet STEM professionals in the field, as well as to rub elbows with other teens studying STEM subjects. Students traveled to the University of Washington in Seattle to attend a Microsoft presentation. Closer to home, they participated in a N.E.R.D. Girls event at Clark College.

"I can't be an expert on everything these kids need to know about," Jennifer Holm, an iTech Preparatory teacher, said. "We're trying to prepare them for jobs that might not even exist yet."

The students currently are designing and building Rube Goldberg machines.

"They're building complicated machines that do a simple task — operating a zipper," said Darby Meade, the school's dean of students.

Students will demonstrate their Rube Goldberg machines at a public open house at the school on Nov. 5.

ITech Preparatory is a project-based magnet school on two campuses. ITech Preparatory Middle School has a total of 180 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades at its campus at the Jim Parsley Center.

ITech Preparatory High School in the Clark College Building at Washington State University Vancouver has 120 freshmen and sophomores this year. Juniors will be added in fall 2014 and seniors in fall 2015.

Other Clark County teachers presenting at the National Science Teachers Conference are Rebecca L. Martin, Clark College, discussing student-driven inquiry, and Charlene Shea and Meagan Graves, Gaiser Middle School, Vancouver Public Schools, discussing breaking down barriers for middle school field investigations.

Other local educators today will discuss studying freshwater bugs. Panelists are Michael Clapp, CAM Academy, Battle Ground Public Schools, and Keith Johnson, Shahala Middle School, Evergreen Public Schools.