A small group of Upper School students at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School is spending the school year learning directly from company CEOS and other mentors through the creation of PEAK, an on-campus institute for leadership and learning.
School leaders, with input from students and alumni, developed the blueprint for the institute during the 2021-2022 school year.
Heather Bradford, former director of professional learning, serves as the director of the PEAK Institute and Daniel Forrester, former PK3-12 director of STEAM and Upper School mathematics & engineering teacher, was named associate director.
“What we wanted to do was really to be able to offer our students a way to be able to envision their future a little bit better than we had before,” Bradford said.
Upper School students got a chance last spring to register for the PEAK Institute seminar, a year-long, one-credit elective during which they complete collaborative projects, visit local businesses, hear from guest speakers and explore their interests.
“We also have what’s called the PEAK capstone project, which we launched with five seniors this year,” Bradford said.
Students develop their own projects but must work with an outside mentor.
Hunter Newsom said he signed up for the course with the idea to do a large-scale project throughout the entire year to get experience going through the same process an engineer in the field would.
“I’d be able to kind of understand the life of an engineer and how their job works more, and then I’d be able to make a decision on whether I still want to pursue this and any college career,” he said.
His outside mentor, a Google software engineer, presented him with some options for his project and helped him as he set up a design process, giving him things to do and consider when looking at the scope of a large-scale project.
Once Newsom got started, he mostly worked on his own through trial and error as he tried to build the device.
“I recently just finished up for this semester and even though my original goal was to have a kind of complete physical device done, I didn’t get there. But I still learned a ton probably more than what I was expecting simply because of how much didn’t work,” he said.
Bradford said they wanted students to pursue something and allow them an opportunity to fail and then figure out what to do next. The students set up their own systems, completion dates and projects they’d never done before.
“We didn’t want to penalize them when that didn’t work, but really gave them an opportunity in a way that we don’t really have in all of our other classes,” she said.
PEAK has benefited from the community’s support whether they are connected to the school or not, she said.
The 12 students visited Truist Park and met with Derek Schiller, the CEO and president of the Atlanta Braves. He was scheduled for 20 minutes with them but spoke with them longer.
“I think when adults are interested in wanting to hear about their career, want to hear about what they do, it’s a game changer,” Bradford said.
PEAK also had a partnership with the Cox Automotive vice president of Operations who came to speak with the students about the contract motive. And she walked them through case studies that the students had to work on.
Another parent is the CEO of Sixthman, which plans festival cruises for Norwegian Cruise Lines. The students had to work on creating a festival, including creating a budget for it and learning Excel sheets.
“We did the case studies, which is very fun to kind of dig deep on how to really build a company and think about all the aspects of it money-wise, which was very interesting,” Carver McMillen, a junior student, said. “But we had a case study with taxis in New York City, and the decline of them due to Uber and Lyft and all of that, which led us down the road of how to get our income back up to where it was.”
They attended a Manheim auto auction to follow its process.
Four of the PEAK students will go on a cruise to the Bahamas as working interns for Sixthman, giving them hands-on experience with what they learned.
Throughout the program, Bradford said the students have been instructed to utilize LinkedIn to discuss their progress. The posts serve as an introduction and a networking opportunity for them.
She said the program’s success will lead to its growth, but it needs to remain a small group. She expects the program to grow from 12 students to 20 students.