A small group of high school students at Holy Innocents Episcopal School spend the school year learning directly from CEOS and other teachers through the creation of PEAK, an on-campus leadership and learning institute.
Heads of schools with the participation of students and graduates developed the institute’s plan for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Heather Bradford, former director of professional learning, serves as director of the PEAK Institute, and Daniel Forrester, former director of PK3-12 STEAM and high school math and technology teacher, has been named associate director.
“What we wanted to do was offer our students an opportunity to envision their future a little bit better than we have before,” Bradford said.
Seniors had the opportunity last spring to register for the PEAK Institute Seminar, a yearlong, one-credit elective in which they complete collaborative projects, visit local businesses, listen to guest speakers and explore their interests.
“We also have what we call a PEAK capstone project that we launched with five seniors this year,” Bradford said.
Students develop their own projects but must work with an external mentor.
Hunter Newsom said he enrolled in the course with the idea of doing a large-scale project for an entire year to gain experience going through the same process as an engineer in the field.
“I would be able to understand more about the life of an engineer and how his job works, and then I would be able to make a decision about whether I still want to pursue this and other careers in college,” he said.
His external mentor, a software engineer at Google, presented him with several options for his project and helped him set up the design process, giving him things to do and consider when considering the scope of a large-scale project.
Once Newsom started, he mostly worked on his own through trial and error trying to build the device.
“I recently finished this semester, and while my original goal was to make something like a full physical device, I didn’t get there. But I still learned a lot, probably more than I expected, simply because a lot of things didn’t work out,” he said.
Bradford said they want students to do something and give them a chance to fail and then figure out what to do next. Students create their own systems, due dates, and projects they’ve never done before.
“We didn’t want to punish them if it didn’t work, but really gave them an opportunity that we don’t have in our other classes,” she said.
She said PEAK enjoys the support of the community, whether they are affiliated with the school or not.
12 students visited Truist Park and met with Derek Schiller, CEO and President of the Atlanta Braves. He was scheduled to have 20 minutes with them, but ended up talking to them longer.
“I think when adults want to learn about their careers, want to hear about what they’re doing, that’s a game changer,” Bradford said.
PEAK also partnered with Cox Automotive’s vice president of operations, who came to talk to the students about the rationale behind the contract. And she took them through the case studies the students had to work on.
Another parent is the CEO of Sixthman, which plans festival cruises for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Students had to work on creating the festival, including budgeting and learning Excel sheets.
“We’ve been doing case studies, which are really fun to dive into how to really build a company and think about all the money aspects of it, which was really interesting,” said Carver McMillen, a junior. “But we had a case study with taxis in New York and the decline of taxis because of Uber and Lyft and everything else that led us to how to get revenue back to where it was.”
They visited a car auction in Mannheim to follow its progress.
Four PEAK students will go on a cruise to the Bahamas as Sixthman interns, giving them hands-on experience with what they’ve learned.
Throughout the program, Bradford said students were instructed to use LinkedIn to discuss their progress. Messages serve as an introduction and opportunity for them to establish contacts.
She said the success of the program will lead to its growth, but it should remain a small group. She expects the program to grow from 12 students to 20 students.