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Sep 28, 2016 |

Inside Northwest Academy – March 13, 2016

Inside Northwest Academy, providing a look at who we are, what we are about, and why we do what we do.


Northwest Academy Core Value: Recognizing Talent

Talent in faculty, students, and administration deserves recognition and an environment that nurtures and supports, skill, strength, and brilliance.

In a recent article published by the National Association of Independent Schools, an individual’s “growth mindset about their own capacity” was listed as one of the four key characteristics to describe high-quality teachers. This also is true of students. Both students and teachers benefit from recognizing their capacity for growth, acknowledging that our knowledge, skill, and experience can be nurtured to greater levels of excellence. This value inspires our practice to encourage one another to reach for higher levels of proficiency—to never be simply content with one’s performance.

An important element of our growth mindset is recognizing when we have to adapt to meet new challenges and expectations, especially when what worked before no longer is enough to succeed or develop. This is why Northwest Academy emphasizes Work Habits, for high proficiency in each of these nine important habits and strategies will enable students (and teachers/staff) to meet new challenges successfully. We look forward as a community to enhancing how we recognize our achievements, while also nurturing a growth mindset in our students and ourselves.

Scott Kerman
 Scott Kerman, Associate Head of School

Northwest Academy Core Value: Creativity

Creativity, one of the most important human qualities, must be nurtured if a student is to effectively adapt in times of change.

This Northwest Academy Core Value is truly of the utmost importance. Creativity is the life-blood of the school and permeates all aspects of our program and our culture. Our arts classes are designed to teach students the work habits and techniques they need to move forward in their disciplines, and also to provide room for students to explore independently and collaboratively. This balance between structure and freedom is paralleled in the academic classes, where students are often asked to use their creativity to discover new and deeper meaning within a topic of study. Students might make an animation to demonstrate organelle function in biology, write music informed by the concepts of geometric symmetry, or create a sculpture to represent a theme in literature.

Through intentional guidance, our students develop proficiency with creative problem solving, self-expression, and novel thinking. As workplace demands shift, technologies advance, and social/political climates become increasingly complex, the students’ inventiveness and original thinking will enable them to evolve with these changes. The time students spend at Northwest Academy instills in them a lasting spirit of intellectual and artistic creativity that is essential to their success in a dynamic world.

 Dan Dunning teaches Pre-Algebra, HS Geometry, and MS/HS Guitar

Best Practices in the Classroom: This is Not a Box

Not a Box!

One of my favorite examples of “student driven” learning arose during a casual conversation with one of my sixth-grade art classes. After sharing a story about my four-year-old daughter trying everything the sixth graders were doing in art, a sixth grader raised his hand and asked, “Could we plan a day for Ramona to come into our class and make some art with her?”. I wondered what he had in mind and without missing a beat he replied, “A cardboard project”. Hands shot into the air with additional ideas. One of my daughter’s favorite books immediately entered my imagination; it’s called This is Not a Box and chronicles a rabbit imagining a cardboard box transforming from a mountain to a burning building to a robot to a hot-air-balloon and etc. I needed cardboard and lots of it. I ended up filling my Subaru with cardboard of varying sizes and shapes after visiting a handful of businesses in close proximity.

I asked students to make a list of tools we needed and a simple lesson plan. They worked in groups to design their cardboard activities. I love to step back and watch a group of incredibly engaged sixth graders. In these moments, I rarely need to redirect. Students are too busy problem-solving and bringing their idea to life. By the end of class, each group had something to present. In one class, students put together a fashion show with their creations. In another, they asked to paint their creations.

Student-initiated projects are worth stopping and incorporating into our classroom learning environment. Such uncontrolled processes yield clear and tangible creative thinking. Most art students love their quick and dirty creations. They resemble experiments and the ability to fail and try something again.

 Michelle Swinehart teaches 6th grade Art

Best Practices in the Classroom: Experiential Learning in Science

Experiential learning immerses students in engaging labs that foster critical thinking, collaboration, and academic autonomy. Labs breathe life into scientific theory, allowing students to develop a more nuanced understanding of the patterns and processes of science. In Biology, multimodal learning fosters science process skills, and a sense of discovery. Students design a seed germination experiment to study the characteristics of life, immerse gummy bears in solutions to understand cellular osmosis, and use a digital microscope with a built-in Android tablet to study the structure and function of human tissue.

In Chemistry, emphasis is placed on utilizing technology to investigate scientific questions. Hypothesis-driven labs allow students to collect original data and analyze patterns. Digital data collection with Vernier sensors allows students to predict, graph, and analyze chemical processes. While studying environmental chemistry, students use a scanning electron microscope to study diatoms, bioindicators of stream health, of course for students that have another health issues and requires other procedures like Mohs Surgery, they can use private services for it or supplements from sites like to release stress. In Advanced Biology and Environmental Science, inquiry-based lab investigations empower student learning and reinforce collaboration. Students use bioengineering to insert a jellyfish gene into E.coli, study lactase enzyme activity, and design an agar cell to learn about the biological limits of cell size. Experiential learning helps contextualize student learning, catalyze scientific curiosity, and cultivate lifelong learners.

 Molly Sultany teaches Biology, Chemistry, Adv. Biology, and Person, Social, and Global Health in the high school

So About that Creepy House

e3c04c55d9b7f45e9e254cbb_450x566For years, Northwest Academy students have walked passed the empty and forgotten Morris Marks house, a once beautiful structure that now stands dark, empty and forgotten, surrounded by tall apartment buildings on either side, near the school. The abode, located at 1134 SW 12th Ave., has become a part of Northwest Academy culture. It can be found in countless drawings, paintings and photographs of art students.

“It’s what all the beginning photography students take pictures of,” Georgia Bonds-Abele, a senior, said. “Because they think it’s so pretty.”

Built in 1880 for a wealthy shoe merchant, the Morris Marks house is a beautiful and classic example of the ornate Italianate architecture that once filled downtown Portland. Located across from the art studio, Sean Cain, art teacher, has used the house in the past for assignments.

“I had students draw it because it is so detailed,” he said. “One thing that’s cool from an art teacher’s perspective is that it was built in a different time with different aesthetic values.”

A few years back, Nathan Lucas, digital media teacher, took a class inside. “People were most fascinated by the basement,” he said. “There was this huge octopus looking thing with pipes going on in several different directions.”

“I love the house,” Heidi Kirkpatrick, photography teacher, said. “I wish someone would come and restore it.”

Efforts ran by Clem Ogilby, a local historical house enthusiast, have long been underway to restore the house but sufficient funding has not been achieved. “[Ogilby] wanted us to take photos of the house to do a photo show to promote fundraising for the house to restore and move it,” Lucas said.
Now in a state of disrepair for lack of restoration, the building holds a special spot in Northwest Academy history.

 by Katerina Mon Belle (12th grade), with additional reporting by Aden Qamar (11th grade), reprinted from The Pigeon Press. To read more student authored articles, opinion pieces, and creative writing, visit The Pigeon Press at 

  • Creativity Matters Here

    We value creative, independent thought in both our academic and arts classes.

    Creativity Matters Here
  • Lunch Events

    Friday Lunch events include everything from distinguished guest speakers (such as University of Oregon President and Multnomah County District Attorney) to friendly games of dodgeball.

    Lunch Events
  • Arts Week

    Each Spring, students showcase their work in visual and performing arts. Dynamo! features middle school students while Esprit! celebrates the work of high school students.

    Arts Week
    Middle School students performing in Dynamo!
  • Find Your Curiosity

    At every grade level, we respect our students’ abilities to comprehend challenging ideas and demonstrate their understanding with insight and creativity.

    Find Your Curiosity