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Gibson Ek Students Showcase Learning, Exhibitions Take Place

Photo of students presenting during Gibson Ek's Exhibition.

On one recent morning near the end of an academic term, a time when many teens in the district might be taking a final, Gibson Ek High School student Leilani Mathieu-Deciga took a much more public "test." She stood before a panel of peers and adults and shared a vast array of how and what she has learned so far this year, from math and writing to digital art, botany, architecture and more. 

Three times each school year, students at Gibson Ek assess their own learning and present their completed work, design process and research to a panel of teachers, family members, mentors and fellow students. Instead of finals, these “exhibitions” allow the student’s advisor to assess the work for competency in five primary learning goals: quantitative reasoning, empirical reasoning, communication, social reasoning and personal qualities. The members of the panel also use a rubric to give feedback. 

After the panel members were introduced, Mathieu-Deciga shared a presentation with those in the room as well as observers on Zoom. Relaxed and confident, the “301” (or 11th grade student) answered questions and offered additional detail when asked. She shared about a design lab that she and another student co-led about forest restoration, including work on local restoration and conservation projects. 

“It was really cool to see all these kids who I didn’t always think were paying attention… were super excited to share what they were working on, and that made me really happy,” Mathieu-Deciga said. “I was in a teacher-leadership role, and that was a way I wanted to push myself this year.” 

When she was younger, she wanted to be an architect, so she was excited to have the opportunity to take a design lab in architecture this fall. One of the elements of that session was learning to use the program “Sketch Up,” which Mathieu-Deciga said she found frustrating, but which offered a great opportunity for growth. 

She worked with Bellevue Botanical Gardens, where she learned science-based pruning and other skills. Sharing her next steps to secure other internship opportunities, Mathieu-Deciga said she’s planning to reach out to Molbak’s Nursery, the U.S. Forest Service, a wildlife biologist, Seattle Public Utilities, a watershed natural resources manager and others. 

Other projects and topics she shared about included experimenting with yeast, learning to crochet, trying an art technique that blended drawing and a burning effect, planning and growing an herb garden, pursuing health and wellness goals and more. 

“You are such an exemplary Gibson Ek student,” said Casey Henry, one of the panel members and the school’s Learning Through Internship coordinator. Henry told Mathieu-Deciga that it’s clear she is learning so much more than she might  in a traditional learning model. “You exemplify ‘driving your own learning.’ It’s gorgeous to watch, from an educator’s perspective!” 

In another exhibition, 101 (freshman) Nick Olson was presenting about his own learning for the first time. Olson shared his “learning plan,” a key guiding document at GEHS, and noted that he has already adjusted the plan a number of times. After high school, he said he sees himself attending a four-year college and going into a field related to climate change. 

This fall, Olson has been studying how climate change disproportionately affects BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color), and also how he might be able to help amplify the voice of people who are disproportionately affected by climate change. So far, he has been researching the topic, studying and analyzing data, and working on a script for a podcast episode. 

As part of his learning, Olson has also been interning with The Trail Youth, a coffee house and youth outreach organization in North Bend. He helps produce their podcast and has created marketing materials for them.  

One peer on the panel recommended that Olson push himself by allowing himself to feel uncomfortable, and consider connecting with people of color who would be willing to review the work, perhaps in a role such as a sensitivity reader. 

“You have such good ideas,” another of his classmates said. “You’re so intelligent and well-spoken. … I’m really excited to see what you do in your next couple of Gibson years.” 

Olson’s advisor, Oliver Jones, said he appreciates Olson’s coachability. “You are always working to improve. … You’re using design thinking. There’s a bunch of prototyping that you’re doing, and I want you to start calling it that.” 

“Thank you for all of the evidence – good gracious!” Jones exclaimed, as he and the rest of the panel applauded Olson’s learning and exhibition. 

Gibson Ek is an option school in the district that follows a project-based model. Any eighth grade student living in the district may apply during the enrollment window each January and February. Learn more on the Gibson Ek website at 


Photo of students sitting in class during the Gibson Ek Exhibition.