Almost daily in the classrooms and hallways of Quest Academy, Head of School Brian Frank hears gifted students propose innovative solutions to real-world problems. “I’m blown away. It could be an insightful question asked by a child, a beautiful piece of writing or something innovative they created in our technology or artificial intelligence (AI) labs that is so beyond what you and I would attribute to children of that age,” says Frank.
At Quest Academy, an independent preschool through grade eight school in Palatine for gifted students, children are surrounded by like-minded peers and supported by teachers who understand the strengths and challenges of gifted children. “I have taught calculus to eighth graders. Even though socially and emotionally they are still 12-year-olds who tease each other, intellectually, they can be college sophomores solving differential equations,” Frank says.
Gifted students can move academically at lightning pace, so Quest challenges students by constantly innovating the curriculum, sometimes on a weekly basis.
“We continuously update our curriculum to find new ways to engage the passions of our students,” Frank says. “Our teachers weave multiple topics and disciplines together so students can identify the connections between subjects.” A question about straws becomes a physics lesson for kindergarteners, while an assignment on comic books evolves into a lesson in economics for fourth graders.
Quest teachers focus on language, math, science and the arts, and are always looking for opportunities to improve critical thinking skills by integrating data analytics, machine learning and coding into their core classes. Students at Quest Academy are enrolled in the only comprehensive K-8 AI curriculum in the nation, developed in partnership with Microsoft.
Through relationships with major universities and industry leaders, students are exposed to applications and ethics of facial recognition, CRISPR gene-editing technology, autonomous vehicle navigation, wireless communication and advanced robotics. “We don’t necessarily go into granular detail, but we introduce students to the disruptive technologies they will encounter in the future,” Frank says.
At Quest Academy, innovation isn’t limited to the tech world. Quest students compete in national competitions in history, literature, debate, science and inventions. One Quest seventh grader is a published author with a book that began as a fifth-grade writing project. Some Quest students have artwork on exhibit in public buildings, while others are working to develop new methods of sustainable agriculture.
“No matter the discipline, we encourage experiences that promote collaboration and build perseverance,” Frank says. “We teach students to view project failures as learning opportunities to develop something even better.”
Content delivery on demand
At Quest Academy, teachers and students are excited to move toward a future that goes well beyond traditional classroom boundaries. Gifted students are often voracious learners, so Quest is developing an asynchronous education delivery program that allows students to learn more about key topics at their own pace. Ultimately, students should expect no ceiling on their learning.
Quest believes the next level of innovation in gifted elementary education will find new ways to extend beyond the traditional structure of the school day. By linking education with technology at Quest Academy, teachers don’t have to make difficult decisions about what to remove from the curriculum, Frank says. “We’re trying to take down the walls. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to deliver a challenging curriculum in the classroom while still allowing students to make the choices on the paths they want to pursue.”
Learn more about Quest Academy at questacademy.org.