“I think a parent summed it up for us last night. They sent us an email, and they said it was like ‘waiting for Christmas to come.’ Christmas is here today.”

According to Principal Christina Iremonger, that was the mood on a sunny Wednesday in September 2012 as iTech Prep, the district’s newest school, opened its doors for the first time.

Vancouver iTech Preparatory was an answer to the increased student demand for STEM-focused programming in Vancouver Public Schools. STEM education already was strong in the district, with several programs, classes and clubs devoted to these subjects. But we wanted to offer our students additional opportunities.

From the beginning, iTech was just that: a place of opportunity. Here’s now-senior Astrid DuBois on her first day of school as a freshman:

“I think it’s actually really cool, because we sort of get to help mold the school and help sort of make it how we kind of want it.”

That’s exactly what students and staff have done.

Over the past four years, iTech has become a place of creativity and innovation. Students and staff have studied everywhere from Mill Creek to Mount St. Helens, designed prototypes for a Shark Tank–style competition, devised solutions to engineering problems, created a virtual reality tour of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, built boats with Vancouver Flex Academy and developed affordable housing—to name just a few things.

Despite the challenges of operating in two locations 10 miles apart, iTech has received statewide and national acclaim, including a recent Innovation Award.

The school also has forged a unique identity, as described by senior Gavin Hoyer:

“One of our yearbook slogans was ‘It’s a little different here.’”

As iTech gets ready to celebrate its first graduating class, the inaugural seniors are reflecting on what “different” means. Here’s Emily Torjusen and James Keirnan:

“Everyone just accepts each other here. It’s a very unique environment because of that.”

“The collaboration, teamwork and the encouragement to think differently than you would in a standard learning environment.”

But it’s also an environment with limitations, although Washington State University Vancouver generously welcomed the iTech high-schoolers to their campus. The school currently serves about 350 students in sixth through 12th grades. Nearly 200 students are on a waiting list to get into the middle school.

Both locations ultimately are inadequate for project-based learning. Lack of classrooms and work spaces limit collaboration among students and staff. Storage space is scarce, and there is no gym at the high school.

We’re currently working on designing a single, consolidated facility for iTech that will better meet the school’s needs. The goal is to accommodate more students so they, too, can have experiences like James’:

“It’s been a great experience. I really enjoy the school, all the people here and the teaching methods, and everything about this learning environment. It’s a great place.”

A great place with a lot to celebrate and an exciting future ahead. Congratulations to the staff, students, parents, families, volunteers and partners. I can’t wait to see what iTech does next!

Take care,

Image: Steve's signature


(Pictured above: Vancouver iTech Preparatory’s inaugural graduates. Photo courtesy of Isaiah Wyckoff.)