Three middle-school students take turns addressing a large crowd and a panel of business experts at the 2016 “Narwhal Tank” pitch competition. They are pitching a business plan for a small engine repair business, standing beside a riding mower they restored from trash-status to full-throttle. Over the last 2 months, they have done market research, experimented on engines, budgeted for parts, and projected revenue, and honed a public speech to prepare for this moment. In the process, they successfully launched a business, met national standards in English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Economics, and developed 21st Century entrepreneurial skills that will help them secure satisfying work as adults.

This is the heart of Project-Based Learning at HCA, which is defined by the Buck Institute as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” Whether students are writing, directing, and shooting an original documentary, developing an aquaculture system, or investigating the effects of climate change and invasive species on local forests and coves, our academic coursework challenges students to go beyond the traditional acquisition of facts and skills, to truly learn where those facts and skills come from and contextualize them in their real-life applications.