Berwick Academy’s Innovation Pursuit Program: Distinguishing Students Without Testing | Darcy Coffta | 5 Min Read

April 6, 2023

Conceptualized and designed in 2008 as a program that would provide opportunities for students to customize a learning experience, Berwick Academy’s Innovation Center and Innovation Pursuit® (IP) program are more relevant than ever; especially in these days of test-optional college admissions.  

From the very beginning, what made Berwick’s IPs innovative was its student-driven and student-designed focus. Students have voice and choice in their learning and eagerly follow their passions to develop a body of work that, over the course of many months, represents a wealth of knowledge. The learning is meaningful, and from our experience, colleges and universities will consider IPs as serious project endeavors that demonstrate higher-order thinking skills and competencies. Students are empowered to make choices that best fit their intrinsic interests and are able to differentiate themselves in the college process. 

Back in 2009, under the leadership of then Head of School Greg Schneider, I researched best practices in project design. Then I 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 standards from ISTE (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 run 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 students are connecting with regional or national experts), and all are publicly presenting at the Innovation Celebration on the Berwick Academy campus. If interested in joining virtually, please contact me directly at  [email protected]

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, have the opportunity to write grants for financial support, and many job shadows as part of their enrichment within the IP program. After completing an IP, students can distinguish their academic record by demonstrating excellence in a particular field. 

The growth of the program has been extraordinary. We now have many examples…

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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.