Especially for the River City News
Written by Matt McCarty of the Kentucky School Board Association
Two years ago, Boone and Kenton Counties opened a new innovative, collaborative high school – the Ignite Institute at the Roebling Innovation Center.
The Ignite Institute offers students from the two districts, along with other students in the area, the opportunity to take courses from one of seven areas of interest that the school calls colleges – bio-medicine / health sciences, engineering, IT / computer science, construction technology, logistics , Design and education – all of these could lead students on different career paths.
“This partnership is groundbreaking for our region and for public education,” said Randy Poe, president of the Northern Kentucky Education Council, who served as Ignite Superintendent of Boone County. “When we pool our resources, we know that the result will be a transformation for the region as we are the incubator for future careers that lead to employer attractiveness and job creation.”
The partnership and innovation also resulted in the Ignite Institute winning the KSBA Public Education Achieves in Kentucky (PEAK) Award in Spring 2021.
“The Ignite Institute was founded and designed to take an interdisciplinary approach to education and prepare a new generation of students for a future workforce, jobs and careers that might not have existed a year ago, and many of which are still developing . ” said Boone County Superintendent Matthew Turner. “This undoubtedly tracks and promotes what PEAK is all about, what public education achieves in Kentucky.”
KSBA’s bi-annual PEAK Award was established in 1997 to draw national attention to outstanding public school efforts that improve student learning and promote the positive effects of public primary and secondary education in Kentucky.
This spring the PEAK Award will be presented for the 53rd time. The Boone County Schools and Kenton County Schools each received the PEAK Award twice before being selected in the spring.
“Ignite started as a concept of what education could be. Boone County’s leadership and the board of directors asked many “what if” questions and nothing was off the table. The “what if” became “we can,” and Ignite went from dream to reality, ”said Karen Byrd, Boone County school director and KSBA president-elect. “Ignite embodies the spirit of innovative education working with the Northern Kentucky region. And it can only continue to grow and improve if we expand the range of educational pathways and enter into more business partnerships. The best days are still ahead. “Boone County Schools own the Ignite Institute, which is housed in a 180,000 square foot building donated by Toyota. The Boone and Kenton Counties Schools have reached an agreement to combine Ignite with Kenton’s Academy of Innovation and Technology.
“The Kenton County School District is excited about this partnership and what it will do to ensure that all students receive quality education. One of our goals in Kenton County is to prepare students for college or careers. Partnering with Ignite will help us achieve this goal, ”said Henry Webb, Kenton County’s superintendent.
Ignite uses project-based learning to provide students with authentic, real-world experiences that prepare them for jobs of the future. Students receive a blended learning experience that enables them to work together and independently.
Ignite students have two “production days” each week, giving students and teachers the flexibility to work with business and industrial partners. On these days, regional companies have the opportunity to work with students. The production days allow employers to guide students in the acquisition of the skills necessary to make an immediate and long-term contribution to the workforce, including corporate mentoring, real-world projects, and staff training.
“Students who take this program are trained as productive citizens who work with teammates and have unique soft skills that are directly applicable to our workforce,” wrote Carl Wicklund, a Kenton County School Board member, in a letter Supported Ignite’s PEAK Award nomination.
“Our region / state needs programs like Ignite to make sure all students are ready for college and career,” he added. “It is truly unique that two major innovative school districts in Kentucky are working together on such a large scale to ensure that children have world-class educational opportunities while focusing on the workforce needs that are unique to our region.”
The school opened with approximately 1,000 students with the goal of having 45% each of the students from the Boone and Kenton school districts with the remaining 10% from other northern Kentucky districts. Ignite receives district funding from Boone, Kenton and Walton-Verona Independent, which have memorandum of agreements. Additional funds will be received from SEEK, the locally run KDE Career Center Funds, and several grants, among others.
The Ignite PEAK nomination found that local colleges and other government institutions played “a critical role” in the design and development of the school. Industry partners work with curriculum specialists and create mentoring opportunities for students who teach the skills necessary to succeed in a competitive job market.
“Today’s students must have experience that will give them the confidence and interpersonal skills they need to be competitive and productive professionals,” the districts wrote in the PEAK nomination.
The curriculum structure is based on the seven career paths that start at the freshman level and focus on career opportunities with high demand. Students can graduate with an associate degree, and college credits earned are transferable to any public college in Kentucky. Research shows that students who complete 30 or more hours of meaningful dual-credit coursework are 95% likely to complete a bachelor’s degree in four years or less. Additionally, in every college there is an avenue for students who are not pursuing dual-credit programs to take advantage of opportunities.
The school has an Ignite Ambassador program where students take responsibility for introducing Ignite to those in education or industry from around the world. These opportunities enable students to share their research projects with on-site advisory boards. Knowledge of the material and the knowledge of how to communicate this material are the main drivers of academic achievement, ”wrote the districts in their PEAK nomination.