RATHDRUM - Students at the new North Idaho STEM Charter Academy had a hair-raising experience during Tuesday's first day of school.
In a science kind of way, that is.
The public K-8 school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opened to a helicopter landing, hands-on magnetic and electrical demonstrations and NASA visuals.
"It's been a blast," fifth-grader Hanne Larsen said moments after volunteering to show classmates how static electricity can raise your hair.
"At first, I didn't like science that much, but I now know that you can have fun with it so that's made it more interesting."
The school on Meyer Road is full with 265 students and another 270 are on a waiting list, showing the interest in education focusing on specific subjects. It is Kootenai County's third charter school.
"Project-based learning is just a different choice; it doesn't mean that it's better (than other schools or programs)," said Colleen Thomson, director of instruction.
Students at the school start learning about robotics and engineering in the first grade. There's "project time" every afternoon.
Thomson said there's a lot of excitement behind the school.
In the days leading up to opening day, families and students pitched in with landscaping, tidying up classrooms and setting up furniture obtained from donations throughout the state.
"It's been a community effort," Thomson said, adding that grants and private funds were used to start the school because charter schools can't bond or levy for land or facilities.
Ross Welburn, a retired electrical engineer who flew in on a helicopter to give magnetic demonstrations, said he wishes such learning opportunities were available to him growing up.
"If you can spark imaginations in science fields at a young age, it has rewards," he said. "I wish I would have gone to a school like this. It's easier to work if your work is fun."
Fifth-grader Daniel Simmons said he believes the school will be right up his alley.
"I like learning how to build things," he said. "You get to both follow instructions and just do random stuff."
Joe Bruce, a NASA solar systems ambassador, showed astronaut visuals to students and spoke about the space program.
"Your world is so different than mine growing up," Bruce told the students. "Math and science will be a part of your lives every day."