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Spring 2021 PEAK Award

Ignite Institute

Boone, Kenton ‘ignite’ learning with collaborative high school

Kentucky School Advocate
May 2021

By Matt McCarty
Staff writer

Two years ago, the Boone and Kenton County school districts opened a new innovative, collaborative high school – Ignite Institute at Roebling Innovation Center.

Ignite Institute offers students from the two districts, along with other students in the area, a chance to take courses from one of seven areas of interest, which the school calls colleges – Bio-Medical/Health Science, Engineering, IT/Computer Science, Construction Technology, Logistics, Design and Education – all which could lead students into several different career pathways.

“This partnership is groundbreaking for our region and in public education,” said Northern Kentucky Education Council President Randy Poe, who was Boone County superintendent when Ignite opened. “By joining our resources together, we know the outcome will be transformational for the region by being the incubator for future careers leading to employer attraction and job creation.”

The partnership and innovation have also led to Ignite Institute winning the Spring 2021 KSBA Public Education Achieves in Kentucky (PEAK) Award.

“The Ignite Institute was created and designed to take an interdisciplinary approach at education to prepare a new generation of students for a future workforce, for jobs and careers that perhaps didn’t exist even a year ago and many that are still being developed,” said Boone County Superintendent Matthew Turner. “This certainly tracks with and advances what PEAK is all about, Public Education Achieves in Kentucky.”

KSBA’s PEAK Award, given twice yearly, was established in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public school efforts that enhance student learning and promote the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in Kentucky.

This spring marks the 53rd time the PEAK Award will be presented. Boone County Schools and Kenton County Schools have each earned the PEAK Award twice prior to this spring’s selection.

Ignite Institute co-principal Julie Whitis greets students during the 2019-20 school year. (Photos provide by Ignite Institute)

“Ignite started as a concept of what education could be. Boone County leadership along with the board asked a lot of ‘what if’ questions and nothing was off the table. The ‘what ifs’ became ‘we can’ and Ignite went from being a dream to a reality,” said Karen Byrd, a Boone County school board member and KSBA President-elect. “Ignite embodies the spirit of innovative education in a collaboration with the Northern Kentucky region. And it can only continue to grow and improve as we expand the educational pathway offerings and acquire more business partnerships. The best days are yet to come.”Boone County Schools owns Ignite Institute, which is housed in a 180,000-square foot building donated by Toyota. Boone and Kenton County Schools formed an agreement to combine Ignite with Kenton’s Academy of Innovation and Technology.

“The Kenton County School District is excited about this partnership and what it will do to ensure that a world-class education is available for all students. One of our objectives in Kenton County is to prepare students for college or careers, and the partnership with Ignite will help us reach this goal,” said Kenton County Superintendent Henry Webb.

Ignite uses project-based learning to give students authentic, real-world experiences that will prepare them for jobs of the future. Students receive a blended learning experience allowing them to work collaboratively and independently.

Each week, students at Ignite have two “production days” where students and teachers have the flexibility to collaborate with business and industry partners. On those days, regional companies have the opportunity to work with students. Production days allow employers to guide students on acquiring skills needed to have immediate and long-term contributions in the workforce through areas of business mentorship, real-world projects and workforce training.

“The students completing this program will be prepared as productive citizens who collaborate with teammates and have a unique set of soft skills immediately applicable to our work force,” Kenton County school board member Carl Wicklund wrote in a letter in support of Ignite’s PEAK Award nomination.

“Our region/state needs programs like Ignite to ensure all students are college and career ready,” he added. “It is truly unique to have two large innovative Kentucky school districts collaborate on such a grand scale to ensure kids have world class educational opportunities while also focusing on work force demands specific to our region.”

Students receive project-based learning at Ignite during the 2019-20 school year.


The school opened with approximately 1,000 students with a goal to have 45% of the student population each from Boone and Kenton school districts, with the remaining 10% from other northern Kentucky districts.Ignite receives district funds from Boone, Kenton and Walton-Verona Independent, which have memorandum of agreements. Additional funding is received from SEEK, KDE’s Locally Operated Career Center Funds and multiple grants, among others.

The PEAK nomination for Ignite noted that local colleges and other state institutions have played “a crucial role” in the planning and development of the school. Industry partners collaborate with curriculum specialists and create mentorship opportunities for students that provide the skills needed to succeed in a competitive job market.

“Today’s students need to have experiences that will give them the confidence and interpersonal skills required to be a competitive and productive professional,” the districts wrote in the PEAK nomination.

An Ignite student gives a tour recently of the school’s Bio-Medical/Health Science program.

The curriculum’s structure is built upon the seven career college pathways, which begin at the freshman level and focus on high demand career opportunities. Students are able to graduate with an associate’s degree and college credits earned are transferable to all Kentucky public colleges. Research shows that students who experience 30 or more hours of meaningful dual credit coursework are 95% likely to complete a bachelor’s degree in four years or less.In addition, there is a pathway within each college for students who do not want to pursue dual credit opportunities.

The school has an Ignite Ambassador Program, in which students take responsibility in presenting Ignite to those in education or industry from around the world. These opportunities “empower students to share their research projects with advisory panels within the field. Knowing material, and knowing how to communicate that material, are the essential drivers of academic achievement,” the districts wrote in their PEAK nomination.

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