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Education, elevated

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | August 3, 2022 1:05 AM

Educational opportunities are elevating to another level in Post Falls as a new charter school prepares to open for its inaugural school year.

Elevate Academy North broke ground last summer, but leaders of this career technical school believe it will continue to break new ground as it opens doors for students for years to come.

"We tell the kids, 'It’s really only an idea until they show up,'" said Elevate Academy North Principal Marita Diffenbaugh. "Well, we’ve got the facility, so it’s a little more than an idea now. But now they're going to show up and activate the space."

Teams are putting finishing touches on the new school at 3716 E. Killdeer Ave., which consists of an academic building of roughly 25,000 square feet and a technical building that is 14,588 square feet.

"Here we are now, paving, trees are in the ground," Diffinbaugh said.

In its first year, the school will serve sixth through 10th graders, with plans to add 11th grade next school year and 12th grade the following. It has 240 students already enrolled and more than 200 on the waitlist.

Elevate Academy North is modeled after the flagship Elevate Academy in Caldwell.

“We plan to expand to be as large as the campus in Caldwell, which will house just under 500 kids,” Diffenbaugh said. "Our waitlist is telling us we need to be doing that sooner than later."

The North Idaho site has been in the works for three years, with dedicated leaders who navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic and collected community support along the way.

"One of the things I think that’s really cool is because of this community being aware of our school from the very beginning, from the very moment there was equipment out here, we ended up having a lot of community reaching out to us saying, ‘How can I be a part of it? How can I help?’” Diffenbaugh said.

The staff of about 30 includes 16 teachers. Diffenbaugh said as she and Vice Principal Tony Prka got word out to find students, staff members found them.

"I think that’s pretty remarkable in this day and age,” Diffenbaugh said.

People have offered their unique skills and resources to make a difference at Elevate Academy North, a space that hasn’t ever existed before, she said.

"Where you have a middle school, a high school and careers, tech, all in one," she said.

Elevate Academy North will offer six trades: Automated manufacturing; business/entrepreneurship; medical assisting; public safety; culinary arts; and construction. Students will attend from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with Opportunity Fridays that will allow students to catch up on educational goals, dive into projects or explore electives such as art and music. If all goals have been met, students will have the option to take Friday off, which will open time for employment, internships and apprenticeship opportunities.

“With our older kids, because they’re not missing instructional time, with our awesome career community coordinator setting up internships and job shadowing on those Fridays," Prka said.

Elevate students will not have homework.

"We really want the kids to have time with family and have good rest time, modeling what good life skills should be," Diffenbaugh said. "You go away from work and you come back rested the next day.”

The school year will go from Aug. 23 through June 30.

"Kids still get all of July and the lion’s share of August off,” Diffenbaugh said. "They get a shorter break that allows us to have more opportunities to do internships, apprenticeships and be a consistent partner with so many of our industries and businesses without having a three-month gap."

Diffenbaugh said more than 300 industry partners in Kootenai County are working with Elevate to provide hands-on training and real-world learning opportunities for students.

"It’s no small thing,” she said. “Everybody wants to be a part of it."

Career and community coordinator Kristi Rietz said students will walk out of Elevate with a sense of purpose.

"Whatever that purpose is, we'll help them define that," Rietz said. "For some of them, it might be college. For some it might be trade school, it might be a job, it might be further training in one thing or another."

She said a lot of kids' families don't realize the abundance of possibilities that are out there for students.

"There are so many opportunities for them to take advantage of," she said. "It's as much about educating the kids, I think, as it is their families."

Diffenbaugh likened Elevate Academy North's story to the folklore tale, "Stone Soup," in which people become convinced to each contribute a bit of food to make a meal shared by all.

"It's kind of like what we did: 'We have this idea, does anyone want to be a part of it?’" she said. “Pretty soon you have an epic stew. This is where we’re at."

Elevate Academy North will celebrate with the community during a ribbon cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. Aug. 15.

"One of the tenants that we follow of being an Elevate school is being community driven," Diffenbaugh said. "Kootenai County has just raised up to go next level on that."

photo

DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Matt Baca, general foreman for Engineered Structures, Inc., works on the front entrance of the new Elevate Academy North on July 19. The school will welcome its first students Aug. 23.

photo

DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Workers move dirt and pave the parking lot at the career technical public charter school Elevate Academy North on July 19.

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