A startup educational program at Platte County High School yielded quick results, thanks to the work of two students.A pair of retrofitted water bottle filling stations were recently installed in the school’s hallways and opened for use, and there could be more on the way. Haley Firkins and Abby Goodman — both seniors — began work in the Innovation Institute, a project- or problem-based learning course offered during summer school. Firkins and Goodman developed the idea based on a perceived need for students at Platte County to have a way of quickly filling water bottles between classes without spending unnecessary time trying to use existing water fountains. The new stations sit on the back of existing water fountains, allowing the bottles to be filled in a matter of seconds while standing upright.
“There are not many things that are as satisfying as watching a student’s passion turn into positive results,” said Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik, one of the first to fill his bottle at one of the stations following a ribbon-cutting ceremony to honor the achievement last Friday. “The outcomes that I am most excited about are the real world experiences the students gleaned from this passion project.” Platte County assistant principal Shari Waters and six PCHS staff members — Aaron Duff, Dana Hale, Sarah Larson, Mary Martin, Blake Seifert and Valerie Stokes — helped engineer the Innovation Institute project. Thirteen incoming junior and senior students participated in the Institute this summer after completing an application and interview process that outlined their interests and defined a project. The high school library served as a hub for their learning, which occurred in more of a business setting than a classroom to allow the students to set their own schedule and methods of working toward their goals. Students were referred to as “visioneers,” and the teachers were called “consultants.” “The message with the Institute is to take charge of your own learning, and do not be afraid to fail,” Waters said. Other projects included studying the declining bee population and colony collapse disorder, designing a solar sill to produce fresh drinking water from saline sources and building a website and expanding a student’s existing automotive detailing business. Some projects were individual explorations, and others worked in small groups. Visioneers were asked to make contact with professionals and businesses in fields related to their studies and received grades based on presentations for badges that proved they had achieved certain aspects mandated for each project. The Platte County Board of Education heard a presentation during its regular July meeting honoring the work of those involved in the Innovation Institute. Work on some of the projects then continued at the discretion of the students involved and without future credits attached. “Part of our mission in developing the Innovation Institute has been to break down walls that stifle true passion and exploration, and not export innovation, but import it — foster discovery in-house,” said Duff, a high school English teacher. “We have the resources and talent right here to encourage our students’ passions.” Firkins and Goodman developed a sales pitch for local businesses and organizations in attempt to find a sponsor for their water bottle filling station project and were successful. The Platte County Health Department and All Systems offered support and helped turn the project into a reality months after “the class” ended. Firkins and Goodman plan to continue the effort in hopes of adding more at the high school and potentially other schools in the district.