PEAKing students’ interest- What is PEAK? Is it in your community?

– 07/02/02

Helena program making summer school a desirable option for some students.
Flying high above the Helena Valley, 12-year-old Joseph Cox and 9-year-old Michael Broadbrooks were silent, staring out the
window of the small Bonanza aircraft at the patchwork quilt below.

By LAURA TODE, IR Staff Writer

Children their age are seldom silent, but these two were mezmerized from the first moment they stepped into the hangar and
Jeanne Macpherson, chief pilot at the Montana Aeronautics Division, began describing the parts of the plane, and teaching the
youngsters how an airplane takes off, turns and lands.

“That was so much fun, that’s what I want to do when I grow up — I want to fly,” said Cox as he hopped out of the plane and onto
the hot asphalt taxiway.
The two boys took to the air last week as part of the Helena School District’s PEAK summer enrichment program. The flying class
was one of more than 75 class offerings, which rival those of a university summer session, with the kinds of courses that would make
college students beg for the chance at a seat in the class.

For the past three weeks, children took computerized interior design, basket making, fire ecology, scuba, quilting, poetry,
woodworking and golf. The list goes on in tight, 6-point type for two and a half pages.

PEAK’s summer session drew to a close last Friday with 350 students participating.
The program’s director, Jane McDonald described the program’s first year as a huge success.
“This is going to be a long-range successful project and what we’re doing now is putting down deep roots,” she said. “This is the kind
of thing that will continue for a long time.”

McDonald said PEAK is just one more way of educating children, and the courses that may just look like fun have a learning thread.

“You think of all the talent that’s captured in these kids,” McDonald added. “The only way to release those talents is to give them
experiences like these.”

She said that in many ways, PEAK challenges traditional school, adding to the classroom experience hands-on learning
opportunities that are specific to a child’s interests.

“Society today is no longer the society we had when education was designed around an agrarian society,” she added.
“However we can think differently from traditional school, we’ve got to do it.”
Through PEAK, students are exposed to a variety of pursuits, careers and hobbies.

But providing that variety has been a huge undertaking, McDonald admits.
“It literally was starting a whole new school,” she said.

McDonald and her team had to solve dilemmas of space, hire instructors, address health and safety issues, and organize
transportation. All of the systems a school needs to operate were addressed in the design of the program.

Now that the logistics are in place and community partnerships are solidifying, the PEAK staff is bracing for even more students in
next year’s after-school program and will easily double the number of students in next year’s summer program.

For the summer session, PEAK hired 34 instructors at $10 hour. Many were classroom teachers looking for a little extra income for
the summer.
Capital High School teacher Karey Conn, and high school student Jock Bovington taught a moviemaking class that created a short
promotional video for PEAK. Conn encouraged her fellow teachers to get involved with the program.

“It was really easier than I thought it would be,” she said. “Even though when school gets out teachers are ready to enjoy their time

Other instructors were senior citizens, hobbyists, and experts in their fields who just wanted to share their talents with young people.
Partnerships were developed between many government agencies, local nonprofit organizations and businesses.

“It’s going to be really neat to see that pay back to the community,” McDonald said.
PEAK is open to all children in the Helena area, including home-schooled students, and is made possible by a federal 21st Century
Learning Communities Grant that McDonald said will fund the program for three years. But organizers are building into the structure
financial viability through student fees. Eventually, McDonald said she hopes the program will fly without grant help.

What is PEAK?

PEAK stands for Promoting Enrichment Activities for Kids, and it is an after-school and summertime enrichment program available
to all elementary age students in the Helena area.
The program is sponsored by a federal 21st Century Learning Grant the Helena School District received last year.
Through a series of courses taught by local experts, students are learning everything from aquatic ecology, to basket making to
chess, mathematics, improvisational acting, paper mache and even juggling.

For more information, the PEAK office can be reached at 447-4588.

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