The two students showing state Superintendent Randy Dorn around the new Delta High School Thursday night had him in an engineering lab on the ground floor.
They showed a robot built in class and a guitar their teacher made in advance of teaching a course on acoustics.
Dorn, though, was focused on the sturdy wooden benches used by students in the classroom — reminiscent of those used in wood shop classes but taken out of schools in recent years as high schools focused more on academics than vocational training.
“Now it’s coming back in, which is great,” Dorn said. “So many employers are saying students have academic skills but don’t know how to apply it.”
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It took a lot of work from educators and others in the Tri-Cities to launch the science, technology, engineering and math-, or STEM-focused Delta High in 2009 and even more to build its new home near Broadmoor Boulevard and Sandifur Parkway in west Pasco.
Financial support to build the 45,000-square-foot facility took longer than planned. Though cooperatively operated by the three Tri-City school districts, the new building opened to students late this fall, caught up in the teachers strike that rocked the Pasco School District.
At the school’s open house and dedication, students and others said the building is a testament to the program’s vitality and relevance and a physical manifestation of what STEM education can do in preparing students for their lives.
“It means even more opportunities for us to be exposed to,” junior Emily Peite, 16, of Richland and one of Dorn’s student guides, told the Herald.
School and community leaders met more than seven years ago to create Delta High out of a need to better prepare students for the 21st-century economy and its jobs. Collaborators included private businesses, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Columbia Basin College and Washington State University Tri-Cities.
The school, which selects its students based on a lottery system, was originally housed in buildings belonging to CBC near its central Richland campus. Its advocates eventually secured $15 million from the Legislature and state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. That allowed the school districts and their partners to design and build the new school, which now houses 422 students.
Beyond the engineering lab, Dorn was shown language arts and history classrooms as well as a drafting and design lab where students use AutoCAD programming. Peite and her fellow guide, junior Sanjay Philip, 16, of Richland, talked about how students design circuit boards in one class, how their math teacher specifically designed their math curriculum, and the importance of the National History Day competition to the school.
Around the building formulas for volume are emblazoned on venting ducts. Information about longitude, latitude and elevation is set into the flooring.
In the hallway, Dorn ran into more students and asked them why they wanted to be at Delta High.
“I heard nothing but good things,” one boy said.
“I felt there would be more opportunity here,” another said, adding he wants to study aeronautical engineering.
“I felt this would be a good fit for me,” a girl said, saying she wants to go into forensic science.
“It’s really setting me up for college,” another said.
None said they felt they gave anything up to attend the STEM school versus a traditional high school.
“This school is pulling off the dream not only that I have but you have,” Dorn later told the roughly 200-plus people gathered in the school’s cafeteria for its dedication.
While the new building provides much more space for the program, Principal Jenny Rodriquez noted that it also will allow Delta High to live up to its potential. The acoustics class mentioned by Emily to Dorn, along with a materials science course, can now be offered at the school, she said. More advanced earth sciences classes could be next.
“We love the extra lab space, we love the extra technology we can put in,” she said.
Dorn said such great education should be an option for all Washington students. He used his time at the podium to lambast the Legislature for failing to adequately fund K-12 education as ordered by the state Supreme Court. But he lauded the Tri-Cities for stepping up to make it available for its students.
Sanjay said it was fun to show the school off to Dorn. It’s an ecosystem that physically reflects what Delta High is, he added.
“We’re trying to get every single part of this school to represent something, not just be brick and mortar,” Sanjay said.