Recently, the Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce's Technology Council held a luncheon and invited Ignite Director, Teresa Hudson, to give an overview of the program.  Entering this meeting, like many parents, I knew very little of the Ignite Professional Studies program.  Admittedly, I was thinking to myself, 'is this just another program for a small group of students with the highest grades?'  That question was quickly answered; No, this program is a game-changer for a wide array of students who have the passion for select disciplines which aren't covered in your standard high school curriculum.  This program is something EVERY parent who has a child in one of the Bentonville public high schools needs to familiarize themselves with.  Even if your child struggles with the standard high-school curriculum you should look closely at this program to see if your student could benefit.


Have a student in the Bentonville school district? Then you NEED to know about the Ignite Program

by Tim Whitaker


Recently, the Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce's Technology Council held a luncheon and invited Ignite Director, Teresa Hudson, to give an overview of the program. Entering this meeting, like many parents, I knew very little of the Ignite Professional Studies program. Admittedly, I was thinking to myself, "is this just another program for a small group of students with the highest grades?" That question was quickly answered; No, this program is a game-changer for a wide array of students who have the passion for select disciplines which aren't covered in your standard high school curriculum. This program is something EVERY parent who has a child in one of the Bentonville public high schools needs to familiarize themselves with. Even if your child struggles with the standard high-school curriculum you should look closely at this program to see if your student could benefit. And for parents in other school districts, I would begin asking their school administrators when a similar program will be adopted. This is like Vocational School on steriods for the 21st century.

"We want to take students out of the classroom and put them right into the business environment" - Teresa Hudson, Ignite Director

What is the Ignite Program?

Working hard at Rockfish
  • Professional studies program that provides students with real, relevant, learning experience by collaborating with real local businesses
  • Started in the 2015-2016 school year with 15 students and is growing rapidly with over 200 students enrolled for the 2017-2018 school year
  • Students meet for 2.5 hours each day at the beginning of the school year
  • As the school year progresses, students begin to transition into internships with companies like Walmart, Rockfish, RevUnit, 455Media, and others as they:
    • receive actual real-world work relevant to their discipline leveraging their passion
    • are mentored by local professionals in these businesses
    • are treated like any other employee while they are on-site
  • Based on their company exposure, some students have already been approached to freelance part-time while they finish school and multiple have been hired immediately upon graduating high school in their specific discipline

Why is the Ignite Professional Studies program important to the community?

Regarding their IT strand:
"We don't want them to sit and learn Java like they do in a traditional classroom. We want them to see first-hand what the cutting edge programming is in the real world and let them dig deep into it."
  • Helps close the workforce gap where businesses have identified a lack of qualified skilled labor in the local market.
  • Students gain real world experience which they can leverage on their post-secondary school options whether they:
    • go directly into the work force.
    • attend local community college for certificate training
    • attend a four-year university to further embrace their passion
    • or in some rare cases, students find out their passion wasn't actually their passion in the real world allowing them to redirect their educational path

Scope of program:

"Creative arts is another area where some of those students struggle with core classes but are very creative, so they come back to school with a renewed purpose."
  • Piloted the first year with Computer + IT (coding / programming)
  • The program's success has led to expanding the strands offered to now include:
    • Creative Arts and Production
      • Graphic Design, Photography, and Video Production
    • Construction Management
    • Medical + Health Sciences
    • Education Innovation + Teaching (new for 2017)
    • Culinary Art (new for 2017)
    • Global Business (new for 2017)

What is the Ignite Professional Studies program application process and what do they look for in students who apply?

"This is not about having the top students; this is about having students with the passion and dedication for the field. The main reason we look at GPA is to ensure they have credits to graduate."
  • Program is open to juniors and seniors in the Bentonville school district
  • Students must have their own transportation as they will be responsible for traveling to and from their internships each day
  • Students go through an interview process
  • There is no cap for number of students
  • What the administrators look for in a candidate:
    • Passion and Grit - students must demonstrate the passion for whatever discipline they want to join while also conveying they have the grit and determination to see it through
    • Gender diversity - as has been the conversation for years, STEM in particular sees girls outnumbered dramatically by boys; they would like to see more girls apply as they only had 1 in the program last year
  • Internships are not paid as this is about student partnership and development by some of the brightest mentors in the community.
    Note: Some students have been hired outside of the internship after school or during summers before they graduate

For more information about the Ignite Professional Studies program, please visit their website.


Authors note:
On a personal note to parents; this program brings back a rush of emotions. As a child growing up in the late 1970's and early 1980's, I was smart. However, I made terrible grades in school and got punished regularly (including hundreds of paddlings over the years back when corporal punishment was acceptable). Looking at my transcript through high school, nobody would have held me in high regard academically. My issue wasn't about intelligence, but about lack of passion. My passion was for technology and real world problems. Academia bored me. If you looked closer at my C- grade, one would have seen near perfect scores on 60-70% of the test and zeros on the rest. I did just enough to pass for many years. I skipped school frequently in my later years which didn't help matters. My parents were constantly being called to the school as I frustrated teachers regularly with this up and down performance. Outside sports, my favorite activities were video games and programming on my TRS80 with 16k of memory. My parents thought computers were not a good use of time so it was a constant battle. Later when I got a modem, my friends and I would attempt to hack public universities and a few government agencies which probably wasn't the best use of our time (in fact we were successful on more than a few occasions). Thankfully, I scored very high on my SAT, found an alternative passion, and never looked back. I was one of the lucky ones. Too many of my non-conformist friends ended up in real trouble with drugs, alcohol, and never finished college.


Today, I see some of my friends' children struggling with the standard curriculum and standardized testing. The more time I spend with many of these children it becomes clear the issue isn't intelligence, but passion. With technology, kids today are outpacing education in many cases. Boredom in school can lead to trouble. My own children, for example, are making videos constantly on their iPad, creating Minecraft mods, making slime or putty with household ingredients, learning Javacript, etc. and they are 9, 10, and 12 years old which is simply amazing! Although they make perfect grades today, I worry about their future as they tell me they are bored. As a result, my wife and I embrace their passion at home by teaching them more advanced subjects. As a Bentonville resident, I already have my eye on the Ignite Program for my daughters. This program is something special. And with the addition of a Creative Arts and Production strand, along with Culinary Arts, I hope parents of the more artistic kids who tend to struggle more with traditional curriculum take note. This program can literally change the path of a child's life, especially for those who may have started to give up on traditional academia.



Tim Whitaker, Father of three wonderful girls, husband to the best wife one could ask for, entrepreneur, full-stack developer, and creator of www.SupplierLife.com and www.FamilyLifeNWA.com