Owensboro Innovation Academy students began working on a project earlier this week to create four fictional civilizations for Kingdoms, a lawn game set to launch next year.
Denny Weston, a 2004 graduate of Daviess County High School now living in Virginia, created the game and Author’s Board Strategic Gaming LLC, its parent company.
He asked the students to create the geography, religion, government, maps and a detailed backstory with the civilization’s religion and government for the game.
While the students listened to him on Skype, U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie and Stephen Pruitt, Kentucky’s education commissioner, watched from the back of the room.
The two had toured the Life Science Academy at Owensboro Community & Technical College earlier in the day before coming to the Innovation Academy.
“It’s impressive,” Guthrie said later. “When I was in state government, I looked for innovative ways to teach and learn. I like that here you have multijurisdictional districts working together for students.”
Pruitt said, “It’s incredible. This is what we should be doing in all our schools.”
The Academy, the first school in Kentucky affiliated with the California-based New Tech Network, is a stand-alone high school that uses hands-on project-based learning, with an emphasis on technical and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum.
“It’s very hands-on,” Beth Benjamin, the school’s head teacher, told the visitors. “Everything is project-based.”
The school accepts students from the Owensboro, Daviess County, Hancock County and McLean County systems.
Benjamin said about 51 percent of the students are from Owensboro High School.
The school began in 2015 with a freshman class.
This year, it has freshmen and sophomores.
New classes will be added in each of the next two years until the Academy has all four grades with between 350 and 400 total students.
It’s in the Centre for Business and Research, 1010 Allen St.
Brake told Pruitt and Guthrie that the center also houses several research companies, including Kentucky BioProcessing, which created a vaccine for the Ebola virus in its lab there.
Owensboro Public Schools became a Kentucky “district of innovation” in 2014.
That allowed it the freedom to create the Academy as a different type of high school.
Students apply for admission to the school and are chosen by lottery if more than 100 apply.
Brake said if the school ever finds itself having to turn away large numbers of applicants, “we’ll look at a different model.”
“There’s a tremendous amount of local control in Kentucky schools,” Pruitt said. “It’s good when they do things like this.”
Owens Saylor, superintendent of Daviess County Public Schools, said students at the Academy will have test scores as good as or better than students at a traditional high school.
“I’ll bet they’ll be higher,” Pruitt said.
“This is cool,” Saylor said. “It’s going to make students smarter because learning here is fun.”
“We’re like a family down here,” Benjamin said. “We all know each other.”
Saylor said the Academy is the latest example of collaboration that the two school systems have been working on together for years.
“I don’t think this (level of collaboration) exists anywhere else in the state,” he said.