Fashion design students rock the runway, demonstrating that Innovation High School remains a beacon for arts-based education in Spokane

click to enlarge Fashion design students rock the runway, demonstrating that Innovation High School remains a beacon for arts-based education in Spokane
Miller Kuck and Jake Christianson production photos
Ashton Heston's collection (above) focused on a punk aesthetic while Jordyn Horton's (below) was inspired by D&D.

Ronnie Ryno began teaching at Innovation High School as a special education teacher in 2017 — the first year the school started accepting students. But when the school's leaders learned she could sew and had intricate knowledge of the fashion industry, she started teaching sewing and fashion design classes.

Since taking on that new role, she's taught students everything they need to know about fashion, from the seemingly minute act of threading a needle to creating a collection of runway-ready looks.

Ryno's fashion design program is unique in Eastern Washington, but it's one of many creative options for students at Innovation, which is one of the few public charter schools on the eastern side of the state.

"A lot of creative kids go to high school and are underwhelmed with the experience and don't feel truly impacted in a positive way," Ryno explains. "This is a place for those kids."

Ryno believes that the best way to learn something is by actually doing it.

That's why she also started hosting a yearly fashion show where her students get to showcase the outfits they've been working on throughout the school year.

Last month, Innovation, which is a part of the public Pride Schools District, not Spokane Public Schools, hosted its largest annual fashion show to date, Ryno says. More than 250 people attended this year's show at the school's East Central campus in Spokane. And, between designers, models, hair stylists, makeup artists and backstage crew, more than 70 current and former students helped produce it.

"[Students] always tell me, 'I don't know why I signed up for this,' but once the fashion show comes around they seem to change their minds," Ryno says. "It's such an amazing feeling, I definitely get very emotional."

Two of Ryno's students, sophomore Jordyn Horton and junior Ashton Heston, were among the designers whose creations were on display — and their collections couldn't be more different.

Horton's collection took a more whimsical approach, as each of her three outfits were themed after purple creatures in the realm of Dungeons & Dragons.

Her first outfit was a take on a race of walking mushrooms, with a beaded purple corset as the focal point. The outfit was completed with a pair of black knee-high boots and a mid-length ruched skirt, billowing with bunches of purple and black fabric.

"I spent at least 60 hours adding thousands of small beads to that corset," Horton says.

Her next outfit, a sleek satin suit, was inspired by a mimic — a dangerous creature with sharp teeth that often mimics the shape of a treasure chest. On the surface the outfit might seem fairly simple, but Horton's addition of sharp teeth (made from fake nails) on the shoulder pads and shoes enhanced the creation.

Not only was she responsible for creating the looks in her collection, Horton also had to think about how the models should act while wearing the outfits.

"With the mimic, I wanted him to remain more serious and walk with confidence," she says. "Then I had him strike a sassy pose where he would stick out his foot to show off details on the shoe."

Horton's final look was based upon the Amethyst Dragon, a large purple dragon that spits amethysts instead of fire. The outfit looked similar to her first, but the beading on the corset was designed to emulate an opened geode.

Heston's collection pulled from a darker, punk aesthetic. Each outfit was a swathe of black and white, completed with edgy accessories and intricate patchwork. Much of Heston's design work was born out of his own interest in the oddities of the world.

"I do a lot of oddity work with real bones and skulls," he explains. "I usually find them out in the woods or people will give them to me."

While he didn't include any actual oddities in his collection, all three outfits included a white shirt that he drew his own designs onto, based on real-life oddities he's collected. Two depicted animal skulls while the collection's final piece included a creepy, writhing centipede. Heston says he invested a similar amount of time on the back of each outfit, ensuring that they'd look spectacular from any angle.

click to enlarge Fashion design students rock the runway, demonstrating that Innovation High School remains a beacon for arts-based education in Spokane
Horton sewed thousands of beads to this corset.

In addition to fashion design, Innovation offers programs in music, construction, theater, entrepreneurship, outdoor leadership and more.

As a free public charter school in Washington, Innovation High School operates as a type of alternative education for the more arts-focused students in the region.

"We're really an arts-focused school, but our offerings are all-encompassing," Pride Schools CEO Paige Albrecht says. "We are a small school of about 100 students per grade level, which in our community is truly unique."

Aside from the artsy credits, Innovation operates as a traditional school would, with students required to take math, science and English classes. All teachers are certified just like at any other public school.

However, unlike a traditional school that gets its curriculum from state and federal education departments, Innovation is authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization to offer the Middle Years Programme and the Diploma Programme. These both implement a five-pronged approach to learning that includes developing skills in thinking, research, communication, self-management and social situations.

While this type of education creates an environment where some students thrive, it doesn't always work for everyone, Albrecht says. That is part of the reason PRIDE Prep — the charter district's middle school — won't be open for the next school year, she says.

"Our high school is really thriving, but enrollment in our middle school continued to drop," Albrecht explains. "This really stemmed from the programming that we offer at the school and the older students who thrive in the arts."

She says another reason for the declining middle school enrollment is the community's confusion about how the school district operates. Parents and their students don't often fully understand the schools until they actually take a tour, she says.

It was a tough decision to close PRIDE Prep, Albrecht says of the district's May 6 decision, but she hopes it will reopen when the time is right.

"My intention is to have the option of [PRIDE Prep] coming back as soon as it's possible," she says. ♦

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Colton Rasanen

Colton Rasanen is a staff writer for the Inlander covering education, LGBTQ+ affairs, and most recently, arts and culture. He joined the staff in 2023 after working as the managing editor of the Wahpeton Daily News and News Monitor in rural North Dakota.