HELENA — The Helena Public Schools program known as PEAK is currently engaged in their outdoor unit known as Blazin’ a Trail. MTN caught up with the group to find out more.
“These are kids that, they really are in a different educational place. Sometimes they don't quite fit into their grade. They might be highly advanced in some area, or they might be not as advanced in another,” says Gifted Specialist for the PEAK Gifted and Talented program, Jeremy Slead.
The PEAK Gifted and Talented program has been in existence for more than 20 years. Students are chosen for the program through testing. It’s for third graders up through high school, and it meets roughly once a week. Every 6 to 8 weeks they tackle a new unit such as astronomy or theater through hands-on experience with experts. At the end of the unit, students present what they’ve learned.
“We try to give them a huge broad range of experiences through their years here so that they find passion areas for careers, for hobbies, for things that they're going to pursue outside of school,” says Slead.
Right now, they’re in an outdoor unit—learning about the Montana landscape through topics like trails and hiking, birds, native and non-native plants, and trees. PEAK partnered with 15 experts and 6 organizations for this unit. 2 of those organizations—Wild Montana and Prickly Pear Land Trust (PPLT)—are teaching the students before they set out to the Mt. Helena and Mt. Ascension trails on Friday.
“Our public lands belong to all of us and inspiring that in kids at this age helps them develop their value set and purpose for what their activity in the outdoors is going to look like when they're adults or now when they’re kids. But inspiring them, giving them opportunities to be outdoors, and to learn about nature is really what it's all about at this age,” says Executive Director of PPLT, Mary Hollow.
Some of the kids in the program MTN spoke with say how fun it is. But it’s fun with a hands-on learning and educational purpose.
“I like the projects that we do. It’s much different from other school in that way,” says 6th grader, Timothy Shuber.
“It's a different way of learning. And it's more like, I guess, you're more involved in it, and not like just sitting at a desk for six hours a day, kind of thing,” says 6th grader, Lexi Peterson.
“Yes, I feel a lot more comfortable here 'cause this is, kind of, as I refer to my PEAK family, where it's kind of the people who I find pretty close to,” says 7th grader, Preston Lende.