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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

On Track Academy suits senior Nathan Flinn’s hands-on learning style

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Nathan Flinn has a natural, inquisitive disposition, but traditional classroom settings didn’t work for him.

“When he came to us at On Track, he was very quiet and reserved,” said On Track Academy teacher Matt Moureaux. “But he started hanging out with my co-teacher and me during my lunch hour, before he headed next door to NEWTech.”

Swinging a hammer and working with wood proved to be a great experience for the hands-on learner.

“The afternoon construction class at NEWTech Skill Center was a good fit,” Flinn said. “And to be honest On Track is the best high school I’ve ever been to.”

While he’d attended other project-based high schools, he felt the projects at On Track made more sense and accomplished more than those at other schools.

“We planted trees in the neighborhood around our school,” he said. “We worked with a Spokane forester. It was more of an outreach into the community.”

He expressed appreciation for finally finding teachers who understood both his learning style and his long-term goals.

“The teachers at On Track pushed me, but in the right direction,” he explained. “Not necessarily college, but in what I’m interested in.”

And what he’s interested in is work – specifically working with his hands.

While on a carpentry job, Flinn met a goldsmith who was launching an artisan jewelry business. Flinn was captivated by the old-world artistry, and the goldsmith took him on as an apprentice.

“This year has been pretty great,” Flinn great. “I’m having a jolly good time.”

He’s long been drawn to work that best suits his meticulous attention to detail, and learning the craft of hand-soldering, and the delicate tasks of jewelry repair and design, suits him well.

“These are things I care about a lot,” he said. “It’s soothing, methodical and meditative and time just passes.”

He hopes to be brought on board the company after completing his apprenticeship.

Having his classroom time interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t faze this independent learner.

“During COVID he was one of the few students to really flourish online,” Moureaux said. “He became more vocal –the ice-breaker – one of the first students to respond.”

In fact, when On Track resumed in-person learning, Flinn decided to continue schooling remotely.

“It allowed him to focus on his hobbies a bit more,” Moureaux said.

One of those hobbies is guitar, which he taught himself using online tutorials.

“Once he develops a curiosity about something, he pursues it wholeheartedly.” Moureaux said.

Flinn downplayed his natural talent.

“I’ve learned some flashy guitar tricks,” he said. “You might say I have two addictions; guitar and goldsmithing.”

He’s thankful On Track has allowed him to interact with teachers who’ve been able to bring out his natural learning style and untapped skills.

“These are the best teachers I’ve worked with because they truly care about students as individuals,” Flinn said. “They didn’t just talk at me. They talked to me and really listened to what I had to say.”

His teachers in turn have delighted at seeing this quiet student come into his own.

“He’s made great strides in confidence. We’ve seen tremendous growth over the time he’s been with us,” Moureaux said. “I’m proud of him. He’s done a remarkable job. I think he’ll always be a lifelong learner.”

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Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com

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