In this special section, we explore five innovative learning institutions that are pushing the envelope when it comes to education. From pioneering academic programs to unique extracurricular activities, these schools are teaching the next generation of trailblazers.
PRIMARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION
Phoenix Country Day School
This Paradise Valley college prep academy is the only independent pre-K-12 school in the Phoenix area, meaning it’s a not-for-profit private entity accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools. Its independent status allows its curriculum and programs to develop with the evolving interests of its students. A recent focus has been the significant growth of athletic facilities and participation, with nearly 80 percent of PCDS students currently involved in sports. This past year, the school won six state championships, seven regional championships, 17 Player of the Year awards and an accolade from the Arizona Interscholastic Association for outstanding achievement in athletics at the 2A level.
Of course, the school’s competitiveness extends to its academic merits, where disciplines like art, music, technology and eclectic electives are mixed in with standard subjects for a more dynamic curriculum at the higher grade levels. A tech design class allows PCDS middle schoolers to hone their coding skills and experiment with animation software. In the upper school, new courses emerge yearly based on student feedback and what’s feasible for faculty. Recently developed classes include American Social Protest and Popular Music, Society through the Lens of Sports, Cultural Anthropology, Wildlife Biology, Biotechnology and Bioethics, and Physical Computing. If a student wants to pursue an area of study that is not currently part of the curriculum, they can create their own independent project – a graded course that culminates in an end-of-semester showcase presented to a faculty committee.
Small class sizes and low student-to-teacher ratios are cornerstones of the PCDS concept, empowering students to build genuine relationships with their teachers and peers. As such, admission is extremely selective. In addition, a comprehensive advisory program encourages collaborative discussions and activities. Weekly assemblies and inter-grade buddy programs teach older students leadership skills and allow younger students to have mentors and role models.
Diversity is at the forefront of the PCDS ethos. In the last five years, the middle and upper schools implemented an annual in-school conference called Humans of PCDS, which consists of various student-driven workshops and lectures meant to serve as catalysts for conversations about equality and inclusiveness within the student community.
Meanwhile, in the classroom, PCDS staff pulls from a plethora of different pedagogical approaches and modalities, ensuring that innovation occurs at every level. Project-based learning is a priority here, promoting cross-curricular connections that are proven on the playground, during field trips and among countless other hands-on opportunities that broaden both personal and academic horizons.
Phoenix Country Day School’s multidisciplinary ideology, emphasis on growth and experiential approach allows students at any level to feel prepared not only for higher education, but whatever comes next. pcds.org
New Way Academy
The staff at New Way Academy, a private K-12 school with specialized curriculums that cater to students with learning differences, continually strives to play to its pupils’ strengths and skills. A key component at New Way is constant evaluation of the efficacy of its teaching, therapy and holistic approach to child development.
Combining research-based teaching, personalized instruction and small class sizes, New Way aims to transform academic frustration into enlightenment. Each student has a course load tailored specifically to their needs and abilities, based on comprehensive academic, psycho-educational, speech and language, and motor skills assessments. These custom curriculums help build self-esteem and confidence in the classroom and beyond.
Faculty at New Way use multi-sensory teaching methods and evidence-based educational techniques. Speech, language and occupational therapy provided by accredited specialists are integrated into each child’s school day along with physical education, art and social skills training.
A schoolwide positive behavioral intervention and support (PBIS) system is implemented to supplement each student’s academic achievements with social and emotional growth support. New Way acknowledges that social interaction is an integral part of a child’s development and its campus fosters an environment where students can form meaningful connections and friendships.
In addition to traditional coursework, New Way offers several creative elective classes. Students can opt to participate in yearbook, theater production, digital media or photography courses to balance their core subjects. Classes such as Executive Functioning and Life Skills help students prepare for future independence. High school students are given guided career opportunities and post-secondary education advising to adequately prepare them for their next steps.
An annual school musical, sports teams, afterschool clubs and leadership groups provide a sense of community and allow students to explore their passions. newwayacademy.org
Colorado State University
As one of the nation’s leading research universities, Colorado State offers comprehensive programs in such cutting-edge fields as atmospheric sciences, infectious diseases and clean energy technologies. The institution engages its students through hands-on field practicum opportunities and 3D classroom experiences to ensure that students master more abstract concepts.
CSU places less emphasis on prestige and instead, focuses more on the value and opportunity that higher education provides for personal growth and international impact. The university has steadily expanded its renowned research programs – and, subsequently, its student population – to offer action-oriented learning models on its Fort Collins campus that lay the groundwork for global influence. Occupational therapy studies and a veterinary teaching hospital are examples of how CSU is innovating the educational sphere. It is also a consistent leader in sustainable practices, water research and translational medicine.
Students’ ease of access to professors, both in-person and via the Canvas online learning platform, also sets CSU apart. The Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) allows both students and faculty to utilize research-based learning and teaching methods to bolster academic achievements and post-graduation accomplishments. A reliable academic advisement program, plus regular career fairs, field and research opportunities, and internship initiatives add to CSU’s strong educational resources.
The university also aims to foster well-rounded individuals, offering dynamic game day activities, intramural sports, a robust recreation center, a slew of student-run organizations and more.
With an innovative curriculum and an array of exciting enterprises beyond the classroom, it’s no wonder that Colorado State University alumni have gone on to win Pulitzers, and pursue paths as astronauts, CEOs and successful politicians. colostate.edu
Located in Glendale, Midwestern University has bragging rights as both Arizona’s largest medical school as well as the first College of Veterinary Medicine in the state. Over the years, the health care learning institute has steadily introduced new colleges, graduate degree programs and community clinics. With more than 14,000 alumni in the health care sphere and nearly 40 percent practicing in Arizona, the university is instrumental in the process of training experienced professionals who consistently address the state’s most critical health care concerns.
Current health care trends dictate the dynamic academic programs at Midwestern. Licensed and experienced registered nurses who have already received their bachelor’s degrees can acquire additional training and certifications with minimal on-campus requirements. New dual-degree programs offer public health and precision medicine courses, which cover pioneering methods to personalize disease prevention and treatment based on genomic data. The Bridges Program is a new diversity initiative that provides underrepresented populations a clear path to success in the health care field.
Midwestern students also have access to state-of-the-art clinical technology like the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN), an immersive virtual system focusing on complex neuro-physical conditions that affect vision, balance and physical aptitude including brain injury, stroke and Parkinson’s disease. The system, the first of its kind in Arizona, aligns with the university’s goal to provide its students with innovative resources and to adhere to a patient-first care philosophy. midwestern.edu
Arizona State University
Seven years ago, U.S. News and World Report introduced an innovation category to its renowned rankings of various institutions, and every year Arizona State University has won the No. 1 spot, beating out prestigious universities like MIT and Stanford. Marked by increasingly innovative improvements in its curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology and facilities, ASU is constantly coming up with creative ways to approach higher education.
The university uses web-based software that allows professors of large lectures to monitor each student’s progress and connect with them on a personal level. Immersive VR-based technology grants students the opportunity to learn beyond the traditional classroom. Accelerated degree programs provide students the flexibility to forgo a regular four-year program and graduate early. These are just a few examples of why ASU has earned the No.1 spot in innovation.
The university also places a particular emphasis on accessibility and inclusion, ensuring that getting an education is attainable for anyone. The Office of Educational Outreach and Student Success creates roadmaps for students to stay on track throughout their college career, while the Career and Professional Services department provides resume-writing services, interview prep and career opportunities, ensuring that innovative spirit persists post-graduation. asu.edu
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