10 Years Strong! Berwick Innovation Center; Innovation Pursuit Program | 4 Min Read

By Darcy Coffta, Director of Innovation, Berwick Academy (ME)

Conceptualized and designed in 2008-09 as a program that would provide opportunities for students to customize a learning experience, Berwick’s Innovation Center and Innovation Pursuit (IP) program celebrated 10-years of accomplishments this past May.

From the very beginning, what made Berwick’s IPs innovative were the qualities of being student-driven and student-designed. Students have a voice in their learning and eagerly follow passions to develop a body of work that, over the course of many months, represents a wealth of experience.

Back in 2009, I researched best practices in project design and built a framework for the program that included 21st century learning skills; such as collaboration, creativity, connecting with experts and networking, as well as solving problems in new and exciting ways. I also aligned with recognized national standards from ISTE (the International Society for Technology Education), ALA (American Library Association), and NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges). This is partly why the program has been so successful. Although topic selection can range the gamut, the consistent thread that ties all IPs together is the framework that provides structure and continuity.

All IPs are academically grounded, all include an element of originality, all are centered on collaboration with a mentor, all students interview practitioners in the field and many are connecting with regional or national experts, and all are publically presenting at the Innovation Celebration. Our annual event for 2020 is April 28th at 6 p.m. on the Berwick Academy campus and all are welcome to join.

What has also been a key to the success of the program is its agility and ability to change to meet higher student intellectual demands. Students maintain a web presence as a form of publishing their work, students have the opportunity to write grants for financial support, and many students job shadow as part of the enrichment within the IP program.

The growth of the program has been extraordinary. We now have many examples of how IP’s have distinguished our students and directly supported their college application process. Examples include a student with an audio engineering IP being accepted into the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music with NYU’s Tisch School. Another student that built a video game is now continuing his education at Stanford. A student that designed a concussion awareness IP is at Georgetown as a Human Science major. And a student that developed a four-year body of work around cancer research is graduating this year from Carnegie Mellon.

The momentum of the IP program has fueled a variety of curricular changes and supported many Project Based Learning initiatives on campus. IPs now differentiate the same way APs did and Innovation Pursuits are a key component in the newly offered Pathway programs. Berwick embraces a culture of innovation beginning in the Lower School and continues through to the Upper School.

Highlights over the years include a continued increase in the number of students that participate in the IP program. In our first year we had just four, in our 4th year the number of IPs jumped to 36, in our 6th year we had 44, in our 8th year we had 48, and now in our 10th year we have almost 70 Innovation Pursuits conducted on campus from grades 4-12.

Notable networking opportunities over the last couple of years include interviews with Dean Kamen of DEKA, Dr. Robert Cantu of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and work with the NFL, Chris Cassidy, NASA astronaut, Dr. Mark Drela, professor of aeronautics at MIT, and baseball greats Joe Torre, Alex Cora, Sam Fuld, and Alex Rodriquez.

Additional student success stories include one student presenting at national Maker Fairs in NY and CA on his autonomous kayak IP and one innovation team successfully applying and receiving a utility patent for a headphone/speaker design. Job shadowing opportunities have taken place at DEKA, Pratt & Whitney, Exeter Hospital, New Hampshire Fish and Game, Lucid Skis in Freeport, and Grain Surfboard in York, Maine. Thousands of dollars have been awarded in the form of student grants and supported through the Berwick Parent Community.

Other accolades include a $35K Follett Challenge Award in 2013, awards from the EE Ford Foundation, Berwick being honored as a “School that Shines” by News Center Maine’s channel 6 and as a “Forward Thinking” school by WGME channel 13 out of Portland. I have presented on Berwick’s IP program all over the country, including at SXSWEDU in Austin, TX; NAIS annual conference in Boston; OESIS in Los Angeles and ISTE in Atlanta. I returned to OESIS this past fall in LA to present research that connects Berwick’s IPs, including elements of student voice, choice and agency, with higher levels of engagement through the project-based learning experience.
Looking forward, I aspire to formalize the IP process, continue to closely work with students to develop significant PBL experiences, and host a regional Innovation and Creativity Conference or Symposium open to other students, grades 7-12, as a forum to bring young creative minds together to share ideas.

Berwick Innovation… Inspire, Ignite & Innovate!

For more information, please contact Darcy at
[email protected] or visit: www.berwickacademy.org

Darcy Coffta

Darcy Coffta is Director of Innovation and Upper School Librarian at Berwick Academy (ME), a PK-12 independent day school in South Berwick, Maine. Darcy has guided hundreds of students through the Innovation Pursuit process, which includes brainstorming ideas, mentorpairing, program design and project management, as well as connecting with industry experts and public demonstration.

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