Frequently Asked Questions

GIBSON EK STUDENTS CHASE AFTER THEIR CURIOSITIES through rigorous interest-based learning and real-world internships. Gibson Ek follows a non-traditional learning model: Students earn academic competencies through projects rather than earning grades through courses, and students connect with mentors in the real world through internships two days a week.

Is Gibson Ek a private school, a charter school or a public school?

Gibson Ek is a public school, a choice lottery high school within the Issaquah School District. Any eighth-graders in the Skyline, Issaquah and Liberty high school attendance areas may choose to apply for admission. Students are selected by lottery.

Is Gibson Ek an alternative school?

No. Gibson Ek is a completely new high school model that is personalized, relevant, and emphasizes real world learning. Gibson Ek works for diverse students with a range of academic abilities, school experiences and interests.

Why is Gibson Ek sometimes called a “Big Picture” school?

Big Picture Learning is the name of the school-design model upon which Gibson Ek is based. The model emphasizes project-based learning and internships over traditional grades and classes. The organization Big Picture Learning was founded in Rhode Island more than 20 years ago; Gibson Ek is among more than 65 schools nationwide that have adopted its model. Locally, the Bellevue, Highline and Snoqualmie Valley school districts also offer choice Big Picture schools.

If Gibson Ek has no traditional classes, what do students do all day?

Most students attend internships on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The school day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays has four main components:

Advisory. Students are assigned to a multi-age advisory led by a certified teacher known as an advisor. The advisory is the space where students bond with a smaller group, plan and organize their project-based learning, and work on various requirements such as autobiography writing.

Exploration Time. This is the block of unstructured time in which students engage in their project work independently. Advisors are available for advice or support but do not direct student’s work during this time.. Self-motivated students thrive during this time; others can find it challenging to complete work.

Content Time. Students work in quiet spaces on our online math program or world language for one hour each day.

Design Labs and Crash Labs. These are essentially month-long themed courses anchored by teacher-guided projects. Students select from a menu based on their interests. Design Labs may include topics such as Ancient Civilizations, Forensics, Bridge Building, Literature Study, Photographic Storytelling, the Art of Persuasion, or Graphic Design

Does Gibson Ek work for struggling students or those who qualify for special education services?

It depends on the student. Many students appreciate that they are not confined to a series of classrooms all day and do not have traditional homework or exams; however, Gibson Ek requires students to take control of their own learning, time, organization and projects. Students who have trouble staying on task and managing time often find Gibson Ek challenging. Gibson Ek does not offer the resource-room classes, direct instruction, daily deadlines and scaffolded curriculum that often keep students with Individualized Education Plans on track in a traditional high school. While students are expected to take off-campus internships, limited on-campus internship opportunities allow some students to work toward that goal.

Without exams or grades, how do you know what students are learning?

Rather than take finals, students must present all of their completed work, design process, and research in front of a panel of parents, teachers, a mentor and other students. These "exhibitions" take place three times a year. Students submit their projects and evidence for evaluation using an online project management system. The student’s advisor assesses the work and assigns competencies in five primary Learning Goals: quantitative reasoning, empirical reasoning, communication, social reasoning and personal qualities. Students must meet all competencies every two years in order to graduate.

How do you ensure that students receive a comprehensive education in specific core-subject content?

Students do not cover the curriculum that is delivered in a comprehensive high school so we cannot ensure that all core-subject matter is covered. However, Gibson Ek competencies embed the same skills and learning targets that are important in comprehensive schools and are present in Common Core State Standards. Students at Gibson Ek can demonstrate mastery of these skills through learning that is relevant to their own lives rather than meeting them through curriculum directed by a teacher. Gibson Ek students are encouraged to learn through projects that they create based on their interests and personal learning plans which means that they often learn deeper and retain information since their learning is relevant to their interests, vision, and future goals. Exceptions are math and writing. All students are required to progress through traditional math courses using our online provider, and every student must write 75 pages in a variety of modes. Students must take and pass the state mandated tests which include math and English language tests in order to graduate. If they wish, students may study a world language through an online program in order to pass the World Language Proficiency Exam for credit. Additionally, all 10th and 11th grade students take the PSAT.

How does attending Gibson Ek impact a student’s college options?

Our students offer colleges a competency- and project-based transcript through the national Mastery Transcript program. It does not include a grade point average. Many colleges and universities have embraced project-based schools such as Gibson Ek; others are still learning about how to assess students who have taken a non-traditional path. Gibson Ek’s counselors are available to help students and families navigate options and work closely with colleges through the application process.

What about health and physical education?

Students set health and wellness goals each learning cycle that are relevant to their own lives. Additionally, two areas of personal qualities include to living an active lifestyle and making healthy choices. Students who wish to participate in sports may do so through their attendance-area school teams.

How do students find internships and get to them?

Gibson Ek’s Internship Coordinator creates a database of organizations that would like to host a student intern, and some students arrive at Gibson Ek with clear internship goals beyond these options. Staff helps students reach out to potential business mentors, and advisors often act as liaisons. Students who cannot drive themselves to an internship may be transported by a parent, take a public bus or walk. We have interns placed as far away as Auburn and downtown Seattle and as close as adjacent Clark Elementary. Read more about internship expectations on our Learning Through Interest page.

Why is the school named Gibson Ek?

Founded in 2016, Gibson Ek was named for the first three Issaquah graduates in 1911: Mary and Olive Gibson and Mabel Ek.

Have more questions?

Contact Principal Julia Bamba at bambaj@issaquah.wednet.edu