I tagged along yesterday for the Tacoma School Board’s tour of the new Science And Math Institute (SAMI) at Point Defiance Park and was impressed.
It’s not fancy – just a series of recycled portables set up in a gravel lot near the park’s go-carts and batting cages. The desks are salvaged, the cabinetry built by district staffers. The computers at least look new.
Come September, the place will be packed with 140 kids who make up SAMI’s inaugural class. The school kicks off the year next week with a two-night stay at Black Lake Camp in Thurston County.
The district’s latest experiment has a lot to offer a student: the chance to attend class in the great outdoors, the opportunity to hone in-demand math and science skills and the advantage of entering high school at a place where no one is the “new kid.”
One other benefit: SAMI’s longer day (class runs from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days) allows for extended and more frequent vacations. There’s a one-week break in October, a full week in November, three weeks at Christmas, one week in February and a two-week spring break. The schedule almost resembles a year-round school’s.
Jack Wilson, Metro Parks executive director, said to me as we were leaving, “Who wouldn’t want to go to high school at the Point?” It was hard to argue with him, especially on such a sunny August afternoon.
But the district does face a hurdle: Point Defiance is not a central location by any stretch. Ensuring demographic and geographic diversity (which district officials say the first class has) will depend on good recruitment and good transportation.
Recently, SAMI teachers met their students in their neighborhoods and rode public transit with them to the park. One trip took two hours (albeit in part because of a mix-up). Carpools could help, but in neighborhoods where all the parents work, they might not be an option.