At Northshore Christian Academy, we strive to prepare students to succeed in STEM and other careers. However, intentions are not always proof that a school is providing the best education.
With that in mind, we decided to ask several mid-to-high-level STEM managers with children who had attended NCA what they thought about our school. These managers have worked in a range of industries, including aerospace, digital marketing, veterinary medicine, and IT. Each manager has been involved in hiring or working closely with young STEM professionals, so they have a good perspective on what kinds of experiences and education were most likely to lead to success.
Five themes emerged in our interviews with these leaders that set NCA apart.
Rigorous Academics that Promote Future Success
NCA students consistently test above the national average, with our student body averaging one to two grade levels above their peers at other schools. In 2019, our school was one of only 50 non-public schools across the country to receive the U.S. Department of Education’s Exemplary High Performing National Blue Ribbon School award.
Shannon Zastrow, digital marketing agency owner and consultant
“In general, academics at NCA are at a very high level…I’d say more rigorous than most elementary and junior high schools. One thing leads to another, and the rigor in the classroom as well as opportunities outside the classroom have helped build confidence, curiosity, and work ethic in my sons.”
NCA’s strong elementary and middle school education translates into greater student success in high school and beyond. Local high school principals report that NCA students achieve high levels of success in academics, robotics, speech and debate, music, drama, student leadership, and social/emotional maturity. Our graduates include five Valedictorians, four ASB Presidents, five Robotics team leaders, two debate state winners, six lead musical roles, two drum majors, and many other high achievers.
Early Opportunities to Spark an Interest in STEM
Early opportunities to explore science and engineering are often the seeds of a lasting interest in STEM. At NCA, STEM activities begin in kindergarten with Project Lead the Way engineering activities and other projects. By middle school, students can try a wide variety of STEM courses including web design, coding, and Medical Detectives courses.
“I love that NCA’s STEM curriculum starts in kindergarten. K-8 education is where I think some of the fundamental principles and curiosity get established, where curiosities can be germinated.”
—David Jackson, Engineering Leader at Boeing
Students have plenty of opportunities to explore STEM through weekly K-8 engineering classes, early coding instruction, 2nd-8th grade advanced math opportunities, hands-on science classes, middle school electives, and classroom technology usage.
Students also have abundant opportunities to develop an interest in STEM fields through NCA’s extracurricular opportunities. Our after-school programs include award-winning robotics teams, cub scouts, engineering club, and more.
Extracurricular Opportunities that Build Life Skills
Adriana Buchanan, Lead Engineer at Boeing
“We have tried to expose our boys to all of the subjects offered — art, music, sports, and STEM — and then given them the flexibility to decide where their interests lie. Our oldest took a couple of Lego classes in elementary school and has now been a part of the FLL Robogators team for two years. His design creativity, leadership, and communication skills have grown significantly because of that experience.”
Robogators is a First Lego League robotics club that teaches foundational robotics and project management skills. Coaches guide students through the process of Core Values teamwork development, project selection, presentation, and designing, building, and programming an EV3 robot.
“Robogators was huge in helping my eldest understand robotics and computers, which has led to further valuable experiences in high school as an IT intern.”
—Annabelle Zastrow, DVM, Veterinarian at Diamond Veterinary Hospital
NCA also has a middle school engineering club, which teaches students a wide range of skills including programming robots and microcontrollers, 3D printer design & construction, basic electronics, computer-aided design, and fabrication using plastic, metal, and wood. Students ultimately work together on a large-scale team project using all of these skills.
In addition to STEM clubs and programs, NCA provides a variety of opportunities for students to explore the arts, sports, debate, cub scouts, and other opportunities.
Access to the Latest Technology
Rashi Narayanan, an engineering and manufacturing manager at Boeing, and Marlon Buchanan, Sr. Director of Technology and Data Services at the University of Washington’s Continuum College, both applauded NCA’s usage of the latest technology.
Rashi Narayanan, Engineering and Manufacturing Manager at Boeing
“NCA’s STEM program is by far the best as far as giving kids the opportunity to use the latest technology and a gateway to the latest sought after careers like engineering or programming. I am truly impressed with how NCA sustains the students’ interests and modifies the program parameters to have an all-inclusive environment and mindset.”
At NCA, elementary school students have weekly computer classes and 5th through 8th-grade students have 1:1 devices to aid in learning how to produce content. All classrooms have interactive flat-screen Promethean boards.
“Both of my sons are familiar with computers and tablets in large part due to the educational system, classes, and support at NCA.”
—Marlon Buchanan, Sr. Director of Technology and Data Services at the University of Washington’s Continuum College
A Community with a Passion for Students
As much as Jackson admires NCA’s academics and technology, these were not the main draw for him. For his family, the most important aspect of an NCA education was the community’s passion for the students. He praised the teachers and volunteers who have contributed vast amounts of time, experience, and perspective to the students’ education.
“Why did my wife and I want to bring our kids here? It was ultimately because of the love and the passion for the kids.”
—David Jackson, Engineering Leader at Boeing