PV School’s CREST program is preparing students for leadership roles

Phoenix, AZ | Submitted by Phil Howardell

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For the past decade, Paradise Valley High School has been home to the CREST program, a rigorous, honors-based program focusing on the practical application of knowledge in three integrated areas: engineering, bioscience and computer science. CREST (the Center for Research in Engineering, Science and Technology) is a STEM specialty high school in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, which encompasses 100 square miles of northeast Phoenix and Scottsdale. The program enhances real world, multi-disciplinary learning while providing the advantages of a comprehensive high school experience. Students enroll in CREST to participate in a focused curriculum of study, with a complete array of honors courses, electives, and traditional school activities.

Housed in a green building, the program received development support from a city of Phoenix block grant to support small learning communities. The sustainable-building architecture functions as a student-centered teaching and learning tool. CREST leads and inspires students within a collaborative, active, project-based learning environment emphasizing rigor, relevance, and relationships in the integrated fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The learning experiences of the students involve interdisciplinary studies, real-world problem solving, product development, and practical internships. A technology-rich environment provides opportunities for collaboration with other educational institutions as well as business and industry practitioners from around the world; students collaborate with peers, teachers, universities and industry experts. Students are tasked with acquiring technical and soft skills while learning and applying 21st century workplace competencies. The school receives academic support from university and business partnerships that include shadowing experiences, internships, guest lectures and site visits. Students graduate highly motivated and fully qualified to pursue STEM-oriented degrees at the post-secondary level. And through the program, they’re not just learning academics. They gain leadership and teamwork skills, public speaking, writing and more.

CREST has three major areas of focus:

  1. Bioscience is a program of study that focuses on the agricultural, ethical, genetic, medical and technological components of this emerging profession. Students in this program develop valuable laboratory skills and experience by being a part of a state-of-the-art working lab.
  2. Engineering is a four-year, rigorous Project Lead the Way program. Students interested in electrical, mechanical, biomechanics, aeronautics, and other engineering specialties participate in activities, and project and problem-based learning. Research shows that schools practicing this pedagogic approach experience an increase in student motivation, an increase in cooperative learning skills and higher-order thinking, and an improvement in student achievement. Project Lead the Way is a nationally recognized program that adds rigor to traditional technical programs and relevance to traditional academics.
  3. Computer science goes well beyond coding instruction. This track of study aims to instill in students a passion and wonder for technology and what can be accomplished when computing power is harnessed. Given the opportunity to work both individually and collaboratively, students explore everything from designing a website to programming a robot, all to create solutions to complex regional and global issues.

Enrollment usually hovers around 400 students per year. Every year, a few earn National Merit Scholarships, among many others, and they also compete nationally through groups like Skills USA. Students who complete the CREST program are most likely to head to a university after graduation. Many stay in Arizona thanks to scholarships, but others attend such prestigious institutions as MIT and Princeton.

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