Why Choose Pathfinder K-8?

The answer to this question is as different as each child and family. Here are some reasons Pathfinder K-8 families identify as critical to their choice.

Click on any of the reasons to find out more about this aspect of our school.

Mt Rainier Cougar GroupAlternative Education
Strong Community
Small School Size
Excellent Teachers
Focus on the Whole Child
Expeditionary Learning
Strong Art and Science Programs
Looped and Multi-aged Classrooms
Parent Involvement
Diverse Students and Families, Welcoming Environment
One School for K-8
Excellent Before and After School Program
Transportation Available Throughout West Seattle 

 

Alternative Education


For most of our parents, one of the most critical parts of choosing Pathfinder K-8 is the alternative education model we use. It is impossible to describe this model easily on a website. We teach to the whole child using techniques that are progressive and innovative. We balance district-adopted curricula with our own teacher-developed curricula that integrates academic disciplines and aligns with standards. 

If you walk into a classroom you will not see desks lined up in rows, but tables set up for collaborative work and floor space for class meetings and lessons.  You will hear children calling adults by their first names and being treated as equals in the learning process with respect and support from all.

At the most basic level, Pathfinder K-8 is an alternative, or "Option" school because parents must choose to enroll their children at Pathfinder K-8. We do not have a reference area and, according to District policy, no students are assigned to Pathfinder K-8.  Of course, there is a lot more to being an alternative school. You can find out more in a welcome message from our principal.

Strong Community


From the origin of our school over 15 years ago, community has always been a tremendous part of Pathfinder K-8.  Building community takes many forms: students go on camping trips with their classmates, parents work together to help in the classroom and organize PTSA and other school events, and families gather to share in celebrations of learning and culture. Throughout the school you will notice people genuinely care about one another. Parents greet children in the halls. Teachers, staff, and families build connections and relationships that can be counted on in times of need or celebration. 

Small School Size

At just under 500 students enrolled in nine grade bands, Pathfinder is a "big" school with a "small" feel.  This means teachers and staff know students personally.  By breaking the school up into halls, organized by grade band (for examples 2nd and 3rd grade), there is an even greater sense of a small school - where everyone knows and cares about each other. 

Our upper grades are particularly notable - while the other public middle schools in West Seattle have 700-900 students, we have about 140 students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. The small-school atmosphere/climate allows for special projects rather than the typical six-period model of most middle schools.  Indeed, many other schools have recognized this desire for a small school and are moving to the "small schools within a school" model.

Providing a continuous program for grades K-8 also allows for fewer transitions for students and engenders long-term relationships between staff, students, and families.

Excellent Teachers 

Pathfinder K-8 attracts, recruits and retains terrific teachers. Many have master's degrees, and all are committed to teaching excellence. Several of our teachers are currently completing their national board certification. Our teachers have a reputation for innovation, creativity, dedication and excellence. Our progressive teachers are committed to providing students culturally relevant and rigorous instruction using alternative curriculum and resources rather than relying only on text books. Our staff works hard to reach each child academically as well as socially and emotionally.

Our teachers also collaborate as a team, both within each grade band and throughout the school. They help and support each other and work together to ensure the highest quality instruction. They are committed to making sure each child moves successfully from the first day in kindergarten to the last spring day of 8th grade, achieving their highest potential.

Focus on the Whole Child 

Academics are incredibly important at Pathfinder K-8. However, we recognize that success in academics as well as in life is based on a child succeeding socially, emotionally, physically and artistically. In addition to a strong academic core, we care and teach about the other parts of a well-rounded education. Our teachers believe that if a child is not nurtured emotionally, he or she will not love learning; a child who is not physically fit will not be able to sit and learn as effectively; and a child who does not feel welcome and cared about by his or her peers will no want to be at school and will learn less.

Pathfinder K-8 uses age-appropriate curricula to teach children to change the attitudes and behaviors that contribute to concord and to getting along with others. In the younger grades (K-2) children are taught to think about others feelings, to solve problems cooperatively, increase their level of social competence, and to manage anger in a positive way.  Students in grades 3-5 are taught friendship skills and anti-bullying strategies; they learn to recognize, refuse, and report unkind or excluding behaviors. For the older grades, social-emotional components at the school, classroom, and individual levels are implemented.

Expeditionary Learning 

Expeditionary Learning (EL) emphasizes learning by doing, with a particular focus on character growth, teamwork, reflection and literacy. Teachers connect high quality academic learning to adventure, service and character development through a variety of student experiences including interdisciplinary, project based learning expeditions.

Expeditions start with a big idea, or organizing principle/theme, and  typically involve field work, are project-based, and provide unique learning experiences. Teachers work collaboratively to design a multi-disciplinary approach that ties in core academic curricula with innovative learning.  Previous expeditions have included:

K-1 Grades: Trees & Wood; Habitats
2-3 Grades: Puppets Around the World;  Where in the World is... (maps and cartography)
4-5 Grades: Canoes on Puget Sound; Struggle & Resistance (American History through the lens of the struggle and resistance of American populations) 6-8 Grades Space (6th grade), Response to Climate (7th grade.).

Please look at our expeditionary learning page for more information.

Strong Arts and Science Program 

Pathfinder K-8 has two art teachers, reflecting the importance placed on art in the school. Our students have displayed their work at the West Seattle Art Walk, and participate in the end-of-year art show. The PTSA strongly supports the art program with thousands of dollars every year for supplies. 

Pathfinder K-8 is one of the only elementary schools in the Seattle School District that has a Science Fair. Over 100 students across all grade levels participate and many are nominated to go to the State Science Fair.  Many of the expeditions at Pathfinder K-8 have a significant science focus. Our green belt serves

Looped and Multi-aged Classrooms

Typically your student at Pathfinder K-8 will have the same teacher for kindergarten and 1st grade, 2nd and 3rd grade, and 4th and 5th grade. This is great because it reduces the time spent on "get to know you" activities at the beginning of the year, reinforces the bond between teachers and students, and means that teachers know their students strengths and weaknesses right off the bat!

If you ever felt that your child was just getting settled in and adjusted when the school year ended, maybe a school with looped classrooms like Pathfinder K-8 is right for your family.

Our classrooms are typically multi-aged (except for K and first grade and some classrooms in the upper grades). The combination of looping and multi-aged classrooms means that each classroom becomes a learning community, and allows students to work at levels that are appropriate for them.  For example, there is not a single book that all students read - they choose (with help and guidance) a book that is of interest to them and that challenges them.  As a result students enjoy reading and, at the same time, are able to follow their own passion and work on the skills they need to work on.

Parent Involvement 

Pathfinder is a school that families choose to attend so the commitment level and involvement among our parents is especially high. Pathfinder teachers value their partnership with parents for the benefit of all students.  Our high degree of parental involvement makes are outdoor education and expeditionary learning possible.

Parents are involved in so many ways at Pathfinder K-8, spending time in the classroom, chaperoning field trips, contributing to school-wide decisions about staffing and budgets, and volunteering for community building and fundraising activities. 

We have a strong PTSA that financially supports the instrumental music program, runs the after school program and Science Fair (one of only three science fairs for elementary-aged student in the entire Seattle School District!), and so much more.

One School for K-8

Pathfinder K-8 is a great choice for some families because it offers a welcoming place for children through 8th grade.  This means that there is no separate middle school experience or the adjustment of transitioning to a new school at a very difficult time in a child's life.  Of course our curricula does change appropriately for the upper grades, but you will find the same caring teachers, small school atmosphere, and alternative education philosophy throughout the school. 

Providing a continuous program for grades K-8 allows for fewer transitions for students and engenders long-term relationships between staff, students, and families.   We get to know our kids so well that we can work with them on an individualized level; we build good relationships with families and students to enable working together effectively.   We build a strong sense of community.  Our 8th grade students go on to many different high schools in the Seattle area and are highly successful.

Diverse Students and Families, Welcoming Environment 

The demographics of Pathfinder K-8 students closely mimic the demographics of West Seattle. Almost half of the students at Pathfinder K-8 are students of color, including the largest percentage of native students in the SPS system.   About 37% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Beyond these traditional measures of diversity, you will find that Pathfinder K-8 families also reflect the diversity of families in our community - from same-sex parents, to blended families, adoptive families, and most every other family configuration.  These families chose Pathfinder K-8 because it is a welcoming place that understands and honors all families.

Excellent Before and After School Program

Our after-school program at Blazing Trails is widely recognized as one of the top after school and summer care programs in the area. 

Pathfinder K-8, with support from our PTSA, has created a dynamic after-school program for all students. These programs range from language (Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Lashootseed) to physical fitness (Jump Rope, Unicycle Team), to the creative arts (Art Studio, Drama Workshop, Film Making) and are open to all students for a modest fee. Some programs are free thanks to a Seattle Parks & Recreation levy. More information about this program can be found on in the After-School Program section of our Student Activities web page.

Transportation Available Throughout West Seattle

As West Seattle's only option school, students qualify for school bus transportation from all over West Seattle. This is, of course subject to the District's transportation policies. Our students come from every corner of West Seattle, and even from areas beyond!

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