PCCAPS makes the cut for prestigious award | ParkRecord.com

PCCAPS makes the cut for prestigious award

Since its inception, the Park City Center for Advanced Professional Studies (PCCAPS) has caught the attention of education officials throughout the state. Now, it’s garnering some national recognition.

The program was recently named one of nine finalists in the National FETC STEM Excellence Awards. PCCAPS is one of three high school programs chosen for the designation. According to the FETC website, the awards "recognize excellence and innovation in the field of STEM education at the primary, middle and high school levels."

Park City School District Ember Conley said the recognition is a prestigious honor for the program.

"Looking at the other programs that were nominated, they’re very well-established, so it’s a good thing for us," she said, adding that other educators from around the state and country view PCCAPS as a model for what they hope to implement in their own districts.

PCCAPS is a semester-long program designed to give high school students hands-on experience by allowing them to tackle real-world projects for local businesses. According to a press release, the program was chosen as a finalist from hundreds of applicants across the country.

Jennifer Jackenthal, director of PCCAPS, told The Park Record that the recognition is important for the program, which is just in its second year of existence.

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"This is a really big deal because PCCAPS is the only thing like it in the state," she said. "Really, it’s the only thing exactly like it in the country — there are a couple programs that our similar. So to get national recognition as a STEM program is great. It’s always great to get external validation about something that the district is really committed to."

Making the honor even more rewarding, Jackenthal said, is the awards aren’t restricted to special programs. That means, for instance, that high schools with good STEM-based classes could also be nominated for the award, making the pool of potential winners from which PCCAPS was chosen much larger.

"It could have just been some high school that has an amazing engineering program," she said. "But instead it was us, which is really exciting."

While actually winning the award would certainly be cause for celebration, those involved in the program are doing that already.

"There’s a lot of pride going around," Jackenthal said. "It’s taken a lot of different people to make this happen — everything from the original school board that voted for it, the department of workforce services and the (Park City Education Foundation), who both funded a large amount, and all the teachers who have done a lot of work. And then, of course, we’re so lucky to have the business community involved, with all the mentors we have."

That PCCAPS students are working on real projects for companies sets it apart from other programs around the country that may also have been considered, Jackenthal said.

"They’re experiencing what the real world is going to be like after high school and college, and that’s the big difference," she said. "It seems more relevant to the students because they can see how to apply all the academic work they’ve been doing."

Jackenthal will attend the FETC conference and the awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla., later this month. The ceremony is set for Jan. 22, but Jackenthal is also looking forward to the opportunity to examine what other top STEM programs are doing. The conference will feature classroom demonstrations showcasing the finalists.

"I am hoping to learn some things, for sure," she said. "Everyone at CAPS is always looking for ways to improve it. And the district is always looking at ways to implement things other districts are doing well across the nation."