Academy focuses on math, high-tech learning

The Technology Access Foundation (TAF) Academy is off and running.

The new school, which was founded by TAF, opened this year for sixth- through ninth-graders.

“It’s exciting,” instructional coach Nicole Russell said. “There’s been a lot of ebb and flow. Once we really get rolling we’ll be an incredible school.”

The academy focuses on math, technology, engineering and science learning and is geared for kids who see themselves having a future in the technology field.

Three years ago TAF, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, began researching ways to teach kids and what worked best.

The results were not what you would see in a typical school.

So TAF decided to build an atypical school, and the TAF Academy was born.

The academy makes little use of textbooks. Instead the teachers focus on creating projects that have open-ended questions. Students then follow up with research and presentations.

The school focuses on keeping small class sizes, actively engaging students, communication with parents and on technology.

The school is a partnership between the Federal Way Public Schools and the private Technology Access Foundation. Much of the funding comes from TAF, including funding for a laptop computer for each student. The laptops don’t go home with the students but are used in the classrooms.

There was one thing that staff at the TAF Academy didn’t expect — the lack of computer knowledge many of the students had.

“We didn’t count on kids not being ready with their computer skills, to operate the lap tops,” Principal Laura Davis-Brown said. “It’s going to be a continual struggle.”

There is a huge emphasis on college at the TAF Academy, Russell said. The goal is to have every student at college level when they leave the school, with no need for remedial subjects once the student reaches college. Students take algebra in eighth grade to ensure that they are in calculus by their senior year. The school also focuses on note taking and essay writing. Career counselors begin working with the students in sixth grade.

Unlike other programs in Federal Way, there is no application for acceptance at the TAF Academy. Any student who wants in, if they are in the feeder schools at Totem Middle School and Thomas Jefferson High School and there is room in the program, will be let in.

Although there is an emphasis on science and math-related fields, students do still get a well-rounded curriculum, including a humanities block, total immersion French and art classes.

TAF Academy is located adjacent to Totem Middle School in several portable buildings. There are about 25 students in each grade level. This year there are only sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth graders, however the program will continue to expand each year until it includes students through the 12th grade.

Staff writer Kyra Low: 925-5565,

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