Fort Smith Public Schools’ Peak Center remains open and busy during the summer

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 447 views 

Students learn the basics of Haas engineering machines at the Peak Innovation Center in Fort Smith.

School may be out for the summer, but the halls of Fort Smith Public School District’s Peak Innovation Center are busy with children and teenagers exploring different career paths, according to Dr. Gary Udouj, FSPS director of career education and district innovation.

He said about 200 students are attending a variety of different “camps” offered at Peak during June.

“We have different camps geared toward different age groups,” Udouj said.

ACT and PSAT camps are geared for high school students preparing to take those college entrance exams. Other three to five-day camps allow middle school students to explore the many career paths open to them before they need to prepare their student success plans as they enter ninth grade. Those camps focus on advanced manufacturing; health sciences; photography, art and graphic design; IT and manufacturing, construction, aerospace and computer science.

“When we were designing the programs for Peak, we looked at those best practices programs around the country. We learned that you have to really start career awareness with students in elementary and middle school,” Udouj said. “We really want to present career exploration for our students. Then they can do a deeper exploration of careers and avenues are there for their aptitude and their interest.”

The camps, 10 in all, allow for that. And the 10th, 11th and 12th grade students helping with the camps are helping too.

“We have students who have been in these programs helping in the camps as student helpers, and what we are finding is the younger students are really responding to them,” Udouj said.

Dr. Gary Udouj Jr.

Another big plus for the camps is the extensive community involvement, he said. Three of the new camps – construction technology, aerospace and Latinos en Medicina camp are community partnerships. The Greater Fort Smith Association of Homebuilders has been instrumental in getting the Construction Technology camp off the ground, Udouj said.

“And the Civil Air Patrol really just came and handled the Aerospace camp,” he said.

The Latinos en Medicina Camp is a partnership with Arkansas College of Health Education.

“We have Latino students who are second year students (at AHEC) coming in talking to these (middle school) students about how they got there and what they did. Some of these students are Fort Smith graduates. One student is a graduate of Belle Point. It is very exciting to see what is happening,” Udouj said.

Other community partners are providing lunch for students and talking to the students during those lunches about career opportunities in the area. And the camps are making a difference, Udouj said. Enrollment in Peak programs are continuing to grow each year as more and more students enter high school knowing about the opportunities that lie ahead.

But Peak summer programs are not limited to younger students. University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Western Arkansas Technical Center students in apprenticeship programs are spending half their day at Peak, learning safety or leadership management before going to apprenticeships at the workplace (ABB and Gerber), Udouj said.

There is adult training in computer numerical control (CNC) lab in partnership with UAFS Center for Business and Professional Development. The program is working with Planters employees upskilling in computer integrated machining. And there are FSPS professional development and events, Udouj said.

“We really have a lot going on here, and it’s exciting to see,” Udouj said.

Camps, classes and programs will continue throughout the month. There are no classes or camps scheduled for July in order to give administration time to prepare for the upcoming school year.