Orca K-8 is located on the border of the Columbia City, Hillman City, and Seward Park neighborhoods of Rainier Valley – 98118 – the most diverse ZIP code in Seattle!
Orca K-8 is a progressive alternative public school, where we focus on the education and growth of the whole child. We believe in strong academics, supported by rich social experiences. We encourage family and community involvement. Visit our PTSA page for more details.
Belonging & Equity: Communities start with belonging. We all belong is a powerful statement about Orca’s commitment to equity. Racism and bias are actively addressed. Children are taught to understand differences and measure success by collective outcomes as well as individual achievements. Belonging means high expectations and strong academic preparation for children of all races. We all belong roots equity in human dignity.
Wholistic: We all belong also underlies Orca’s commitment to the whole child. Knowing children – what they know and feel, how they learn – creates the foundation for learning. We value intellectual, emotional, social, and physical growth. Empowered students actively engage with motivating curriculum and each other. Orca explores the dance between learning that emerges from children’s interests, and lessons that develop essential skills.
Community: A web of families, staff, peers, and community supports Orca students. Our families participate in all aspects of school life, from organizing classroom support and community events to making decisions and implementing curriculum. Orca families join children in learning to build bridges across personal and cultural divides – an essential skill in a multicultural community working for justice.
Environment: Our future is also entwined with the Earth’s. Orca encourages children as they explore, nurture, and celebrate their connections with the planet. Students are introduced to environmental themes that build science expertise and develop awareness of human impacts and responsibility. Environmental science is hands-on and includes planting seeds and knowing what it takes to make a garden grow.
Experiential Exploration: The human spirit defines itself in creative expression. We believe children need to explore – to mess around with ideas and materials – and then examine what emerges. The arts are a model for exploration: try to express thoughts or feelings with toothpicks or sidewalk chalk, or maybe with a bongo drum or your entire body. The arts are essential to learning. Dirt digging is also science: exploration allows scientists to imagine new answers – or new questions – and then develop experiments to evaluate their ideas. The human experience requires a willingness to take risks, follow threads to an uncertain end, and sit with mystery.
Democratic: An Orca education is experienced together – staff, students, parents, and community members. Challenges are opportunities for learning: What’s really going on? What choices could we make? What are other perspectives? How can we use this experience to learn and grow as a community? Democracy is a complex endeavor and Orca aims to raise children who will participate. Our graduates will make their way in a world that demands strong academic skills, critical thinking, cultural competence, and collaborative action. Orca students experience freedom with responsibility – to themselves, their community, and the planet we depend on. We aim to develop empowered citizens who will change the world.
We are a diverse community dedicated to critical assessment of ourselves and the world in which we live. We seek to engage everyone and we welcome debate. Families are active partners with the staff in advocating for children and encouraging democratic participation so that all voices can be heard.
Vision: Orca K-8 School is committed to providing a strong academic program to develop globally conscious student leaders through service learning and community building. Our school community celebrates the unique talents and gifts of each student engaging them in critical thinking and active participation. Our students develop respect for each other, their community and the world around them. Orca K-8 students are academically and socially prepared for high school and beyond.
Pledge: In this garden we all belong. We spread roots in rich soil. With wind, rain, and sun we grow fruits and flowers. We send seeds of change across the Earth.
A Brief History of Orca
In 1969, the Seattle School District offered a handful of alternative programs in response to parents who “didn’t like kids all sitting in rows and all on the same page at the same time in the same book and wanted a little more choice for their kids.” One was the “Free School,” whose charter included a wide variety of learning experiences, informal student groupings, evaluation based on parent-teacher-student conferences, and learning programs based on the individual needs of each child.
The Allen Free School opened in 1972, with 44 students in a portable at John B. Allen Elementary School. By 1981, the thriving program had relocated to the B. F. Day building in Fremont, and changed its name to Orca in honor of the endangered whales of Puget Sound. In 1989, Orca moved to the Columbia building in the Columbia City neighborhood. Orca is now located in the Whitworth Elementary School building on the border of the Columbia City, Hillman City, and Seward Park neighborhoods.
Orca’s program has grown and evolved over the years, but one constant influence has been kindergarten teacher Marletta Iwasyk. On staff with the school since it began, Marletta’s approach to alternative education is “freedom with responsibility.” Said Marletta, “When we move to the new building the spirit of Orca I would like to see carried on is the family feeling we have, the togetherness, the sharing and collaboration among teachers and kids. It is important to me to get kids to be independent workers and to take care of each other.”
Hands-on education has long been a hallmark of Orca. The greenhouse, garden and science building opened at the school in 2008; a legacy of Orca’s longstanding garden and environmental education program that helps kids learn about science while digging in the dirt. Dance, art, class meetings, and cooperative problem-solving are all elements of Orca. Orca kids at all grade levels have have outdoor fun and learning experiences, including camp experiences for most classes every year.