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Jan. 15, 2021

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Discovery High School on track to open in fall

Project-based learning at heart of new option for Camas students

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
9 Photos
The commons area for freshmen and sophomores at Discovery High School. The project-based-learning high school will be broken into wings for ninth- and 10th-graders and 11th- and 12th-graders. Each wing will have traditional classrooms, larger research and development rooms, work space for smaller groups and covered outdoor areas.
The commons area for freshmen and sophomores at Discovery High School. The project-based-learning high school will be broken into wings for ninth- and 10th-graders and 11th- and 12th-graders. Each wing will have traditional classrooms, larger research and development rooms, work space for smaller groups and covered outdoor areas. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CAMAS — Before eighth-graders in the Camas School District end their middle school careers, they will have to decide where they want to attend high school. Soon they will have a new choice.

In the coming weeks, the students and their families will have the chance to attend various information sessions about the three high school options in the district. They will then decide which school they want to attend in the fall and apply for that program.

“It had been done on a smaller scale for students interested in certain programs,” Superintendent Jeff Snell said. “We hadn’t done it on this sort of scale with all our eighth-graders. All those options can lead them to whatever they want to do in the future.”

Students will have the option of attending Camas High School, Hayes Freedom High School or, for the first time, Discovery High School. Camas High offers a traditional experience. Hayes is an alternative for students looking for a smaller-school environment, as the school has about 150 students. Instead of traditional schedules, students have fewer classes per day and the classes aren’t strictly divided by quarter or semester.

Discovery is set to open in the fall for the start of the 2018-2019 school year, and is the newest school on the district’s project-based-learning campus. There are currently 200-plus middle-schoolers at the other school on the campus, Odyssey Middle School, which is in the former Sharp Laboratories of America building.

If You Go

What: Information session about high school options in Camas School District.

Where: Skyridge Middle School, 5220 N.W. Parker St., Camas.

When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 13. There will be other information sessions throughout the month. For information, visit the project-based learning campus’s website at www.pblcamas.com

The district purchased the 55,000-square-foot lab building, at 5750 N.W. Pacific Rim Blvd., and surrounding 31.57 acres from Sharp for $12.5 million in 2016. The money for the purchase came from a $120 million bond voters passed in February 2016.

With three high school programs, “Each of the experiences are going to be a little unique,” Snell said. “Camas High School is that comprehensive model: lot of variety and choices, and a lot of kids, too. Adding Discovery, we’re letting kids go a lot deeper. Hayes is a smaller place where you truly know everyone in your school and all the teachers.”

Camas High School has about 2,000 students, and at full capacity, Discovery will hold around 600. In the fall, Discovery is expected to open with between 120-150 freshmen and 60-75 sophomores, according to Aaron Smith, principal of Odyssey Middle School. The following year, Discovery will have students in grades 9-11 and have students in all grades the year after.

The school is expected to have around 15 teachers and staffers who work with students in its first year, and Smith will serve as principal of Discovery in addition to leading the middle school.

Discovery update

Odyssey is in its second year, and interest in the project-based learning middle school doubled before this school year, Smith said, with more than 200 families applying for about 80 spots in sixth grade. The school had to select students using a lottery system.

Students in Odyssey Middle School will have their spots reserved in Discovery High School, if they want to continue that route, Smith said. If there’s more interest than spots left, the school will use a lottery system again. If there’s less interest than anticipated, Smith said, the school could open it up to students from out of the district, but logistics for that haven’t been worked out yet.

Students in the project-based-learning program will have their spots reserved for the next grade, if they want to continue, but there should be spots available each year for others to join each grade, Smith said.

Word of mouth about the program from middle schoolers has helped interest increase, Smith said. Project-based learning allows students to collaborate on complex questions, problems and challenges over an extended period of time. The projects tend to cover multiple subject areas and address real-world issues.

Smith said students in the high school program will meet all their typical high school requirements and there will be some opportunities for AP credit.

“They will have a transcript and diploma, like any student in the Camas School District,” Smith said. “These students will also be able to say, ‘Here are the projects I worked on, and here’s who I worked with.’ ”

Collaboration is a big theme in project-based learning, and Discovery High School will be built for it. The roughly 90,000-square-foot school is currently under construction, but once it’s complete, the school will offer spaces for students to work together throughout the building.

The new school is broken into wings for ninth- and 10th-graders and 11th- and 12th-graders. Each wing will have traditional classrooms, as well research and development rooms up to 3,000 square feet. There will be two smaller rooms in each wing designed for groups of four to six. Each wing will also have a covered outdoor work space.

The school will have an open seating area with some tables and space for students to do work. There will be an outdoor amphitheater behind the school.

“We want the school to be more in line with what’s happening beyond high school, and preparing them for the future,” Smith said. “We’re not trying to create a school for the past. We’re trying to help students find their passion, teach them how to work with others and solve problems.”

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