KANSAS CITY, Mo. — High School is a time when students learn a lot about themselves while they also learn what they need to graduate. The Park Hill School District created a unique, project-based educational structure with its LEAD Innovation Studio five years ago.

Students in the Park Hill District can go to either one of its traditional high schools or opt into the LEAD Innovation Studio, where they go to class in a new building, completed during the pandemic.

The focus there is on driving home what students need to learn through practical projects, like building a mini-golf course that people will eventually be able to play.

That project and others like it allow students to demonstrate their mastery of classroom skills from a variety of different classes all in one project.

“In that instance, they’re actually applying across a bunch of content areas, geometry, and physics and it’s also soft and professional skills like collaborating with others,” said LEAD Innovation Studio Principal Dr. Ryan Stanley.

It’s why students like Senior Megan Lee and Sophomore Braylen Ashley chose LEAD Innovation Studio over a more traditional high school class experience.

“I feel like tests are an assessment of what you remember not necessarily what you know,” Ashley said.

Lee says those projects help drive home how the new skills can be practically applied.

“It’s like when you’re in middle school and you’re like, ‘Where am I going to use this math in real life,” asked Lee. “That’s what we’re doing every day here.”

Stanley says making practical applications part of the daily curriculum makes LEAD Innovation Studio stand out.

“Traditionally, we segment course content,” Stanley said. “It’s very soloed and I don’t believe that’s how the world works and how life works and how we work as professionals.”

The building itself helps break down those barriers by not having bells to mark class change times, and with wide open spaces inside and outside the building that can be used for anything from lunch to presentations or group work.

It was a creative way for the Park Hill district to handle the consistent population growth in its district, where there are already roughly 1,500-1,600 students in each traditional high school. LEAD Innovation District has a total of 600 students from other options, with room to expand as needed.

Lee plans to got to KU to be part of its nursing program. Both she and Ashely were part of extracurricular programs and teams in their home high schools.

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