Camas’ newest high school, the project-based learning Discovery High, opened its doors to 115 freshmen this week.
Construction on the school’s upperclassmen wing will continue during the first three to four weeks of the new school year, while freshmen enjoy the newly completed underclassmen sections.
Once completed, the 90,000-square-foot Discovery building will provide students and families with a curriculum a bit different from a traditional high school, and a look that favors industrial design and open, flexible spaces.
The freshmen Discovery class, which started school Tuesday, Sept. 4, are the first Discovery High Phoenixes, and will be led by two core groups of educators — English language arts and social studies teachers and math and science teachers.
Tyler Morgan, who taught at Camas High School for 13 years, is now a part of the core group of teachers at Discovery and said his students will soon explore environmental and social issues through a superhero lens.
The superhero scope will weave its way through the students’ English and history lessons, as the freshmen learn the origin stories, civilizations and cultures behind various superheroes and eventually write their own superhero origin story.
The students will use those origin stories as a jumping off point for learning about environmental or social issues, Morgan said.
For example, if a student chose Aquaman, they might think about plastic in the ocean and learn how to address an issue like that, the teacher explained.
The project also will incorporate math and science when students start to think about the superhero and their powers, Morgan said.
“They’ll talk about being able to fly and the math behind that along with the science,” Morgan said. “Maybe then they’d study flight and aerodynamics, or something that would tie into this bigger picture.”
In switching from a traditional high school to a project-based learning (PBL) school, Morgan said he has noticed the PBL teaching model is much more collaborative.
“There’s been more authentic collaboration in the last few weeks than I feel I’ve ever really had or experienced before,” he said. “It’s not about learning in isolation, it’s about putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to understand the bigger picture.”
Zach Groff, a Discovery freshman, said during an Aug. 30 orientation at the new high school that he liked his experience at Odyssey Middle School, the first PBL school in Camas, and is looking forward to continuing that style of education at the high school level.
“The other schools have more strict rules, and at Odyssey it’s flexible and the teachers are able to work with you better,” Zach said. “You can do your own projects, which is pretty cool. So, if you wanted to do a project, then you can do all your research at school and it’s a motivating area.”
Jeff Groff, Zach’s father, said he and his family were pleased by the PBL style of learning.
“We thought it sounded like a good fit with (Zach’s) learning style, and his attention span and being able to work with groups and solve problems,” Jeff said. “And to have a little bit more freedom to learn from the material in a different manner.”
In Zach’s first year at Odyssey, there was a short transition struggle, but by the mid-year point, Zach was earning better grades than when he was in the traditional school environment, his dad said.
“Overall, we were very happy with it and excited that they were going to offer it at the high school level,” Jeff said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
During this first week of school, students will choose from a number of electives that will then be narrowed down in the second week and based on students’ various interests.
Teachers have developed elective options that include drama, yearbook, digital media, instrumental music, guitar, music production, model United Nations, podcasting, character design and costume design.
“We’re really excited to be able to give our core teachers the opportunity to teach something they’re passionate about,” Aaron Smith, principal at both Discovery and Odyssey, said. “It’s a really big plus for all of our students, because they will have more options.”
The $46 million high school, funded by the $120 million bond Camas School District voters passed in 2016, will feature a 3,000-square-foot projects lab for science and art; a 3,000-square-foot research and design studio that will serve as a general purpose room and provide personal storage for students; traditional, direct instruction rooms; and a “mission control” staff room.