RATHDRUM — They’re known as the “trail blazers” on campus because they have charted a path for all future students. Everything they did together was brand new for the school — prom, projects, classes and now graduation.
This month, a senior class of seven will form North Idaho STEM Charter Academy’s first graduating class. Many of them have been together since seventh grade.
They have collected 381 college credits and have been accepted to 22 different colleges. Four will graduate with associate’s degrees from North Idaho College. Together they have racked up nearly $312,000 in scholarships.
“These students created the culture and set the tone for work ethic,” said Scott Thomson, the executive director of the school, which emphasizes the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.
The seven students ranked the school at the top for the best SAT scores in the state, with an average score of 1,290 on a 1,600-point scale.
“We dealt with all the challenges you would face at a large school, but at a lower scale,” said senior Paige Pence.
Paige will graduate with her associate’s degree in education this month and plans to attend Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., and study elementary education. She found her passion for teaching while volunteering with elementary kids.
“The secret to success at this school is the staff and culture,” Paige said.
Joseph Benson is the valedictorian and wants to be a mechanical engineer and build robots. He will attend Gonzaga University after graduating high school with an associate’s degree.
“High school has been a great experience for me,” Joseph said.
Jessica Millard wants to create a rocket company like SpaceX in the future. She will graduate with an associate’s degree and attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and plans to study Aeronautical Engineering.
“The best decision I made was attending this school and looking to advance in STEM,”Jessica said.
Courtland Nutt landed a $6,250 scholarship and will attend North Idaho College to study history. He is expected to graduate with an associate’s degree next year and plans to transfer to a university.
“I chose what to make out of my high school experience and that was having a good attitude,” Courtland said.
Joseph Broder wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and work as a software engineer. He was accepted to six colleges from across the country and will attend University of California at Berkeley to study computer science.
“I learned if you work hard it will pay off at the end,” Joseph said. “School was challenging, but rewarding.”
Shay Carlock will complete the Fire Cadet program with the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department this month and graduate with an associate’s degree in emergency services and community paramedics. She will attend Idaho State University with the goal of becoming a paramedic and pursuing emergency services in college.
Ashton Portrey will attend North Idaho College with a $6,220 scholarship. He completed his general education requirements while in high school for the computer Information Technology program. He plans to gain technology work experience while attending school.
The seven seniors will be the first to earn an Idaho STEM diploma. The new diploma, approved by the 2018 Legislature, requires students to complete eight credits in math and eight credits in science (students must take six credits in each discipline in order to graduate) plus an additional five credits in the STEM fields. All future graduates will earn a STEM diploma from the school.
“This is a bittersweet time for us,” Thomson said. “These students have been part of our life for the last six years.”
Thomson and his wife, Colleen, longtime Lakeland School District teachers, opened the charter school in 2012. The school added grade nine in 2014, and added another grade each consecutive year.