A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Meet Ignite Institute: Northern Kentucky’s revolutionary new high-tech high school

Special to NKyTribune
First of a series

Picture this: The year is 2027. A group of local college grads recently won $40 million in second-round venture funding for their AI web search company. St. Elizabeth is in the process of building its latest hospital and research center in Elsmere. Regional natives Steven Spielberg and George Clooney have jointly announced a Museum & Education Center for the Narrative Arts in Covington. And Jeff Bezos is making an appearance at BB&T Arena to announce Northern Kentucky as the site of a new HQ3 Innovation Center that will employ 40,000 people with salaries exceeding $100,000 each.

Those are just some of the ambitious outcomes organizers imagined when they began collaborating on a strategic plan for the Ignite Institute at Roebling Innovation Center, a groundbreaking new public high school in Northern Kentucky that’s gaining national attention.

Ignite will open in August 2019 on the renovated Erlanger campus once occupied by Toyota M Manufacturing, and excitement is already building among students, parents and educators, as well as local business leaders and elected officials.

“Ignite Institute will blend traditional classroom learning with hands-on projects linking directly with industry,” says Kenton County Superintendent Dr. Henry Webb. “This has powerful implications for our local education system and for our economy. Our students will now have the chance to prepare extensively for the careers of tomorrow before graduating high school.”

Ignite’s creators didn’t have to look far for inspiration; the half-day Kenton County Academies of Innovation and Technology program was established five years ago, with the dual purpose of equipping students for high-paying, next-generation careers, and strengthening our regional workforce.

Next-generation learning

Ignite won’t charge tuition, and there’s no entrance exam. There’s also no minimum GPA requirement, though the curriculum will center on highly advanced coursework patterned after institutions like San Diego’s High Tech High and Plano Academy in Texas. Like those schools, Ignite will rely on project-based learning experiences to deliver skills in the STEAM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — subjects that correlate to high-paying jobs with regional employers like Bosch, St. Elizabeth, CVG, Toyota and others.

One major goal, according to Boone County Superintendent Randy Poe, is to maintain and nurture the childlike wonder students experience entering kindergarten, which too often fizzles by seventh or eighth grade.

“A great example is robotics students in Boone County, some placing top in nation,” says Poe. “Those students can’t wait until the normal school day ends so they can finally get to work on their robotics passion projects. Why should that gifted person be sitting at a desk doing equivalency work, waiting to do what really excites them?”

Addressing that question is part of a “care first, teach second” approach that Poe and other leaders believe could transform modern education, in Northern Kentucky and across the country.

“Working one-on-one to help students learn what they want to do — and equally important, what they don’t want to do — brings the excitement back to learning, while at the same time introducing career-focused experiences and interactions that will benefit students for the rest of their lives,” Poe says.

Collaborating for a better tomorrow

Ignite educators called on Northern Kentucky’s foremost industry leaders to help develop a cross-disciplinary curriculum that would both address specific gaps in the regional workforce, and give students the chance to interact comfortably with local business leaders, working hands-on to solve for real-world industry challenges — everything from driverless automobile technology to cancer treatment.

“It’s a unique collaboration that I believe can be a state and national model of regional school districts, business, industry, and community working together to improve the way we live and learn,” says Dr. Webb. “There are pockets of excellence across Kentucky and the nation, but not until now have we seen a regional approach with everyone coming together to ensure success.”

Students from all Boone, Kenton and Campbell school districts and counties are encouraged to apply to Ignite Institute. Enrollment will open in early October and end December 14. Stay tuned to the NKY Tribune in coming weeks for more information, as well as a schedule of informative events for parents and students.

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  1. William L. Woods says:

    I love the idea of bringing excitement back to learning by focusing on what students love doing. Let me know how I can help.

    William L. Woods
    School Treasurer
    Highlands High School
    Fort Thomas, KY 41075

  2. Paul Knapp says:

    Where in Elsmere? I lived there while a student at Lloyd. Must have expanded since then–in the 40s.

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