Karen L. Jurjevich
Principal, Branksome Hall
Branksome Hall has been a leader in girls’ education since 1903. A lot has changed since the school’s earliest days, as Branksome has continuously evolved to meet each new generation of students’ needs.
Today, the Toronto-based, International Baccalaureate, independent girls’ school is leading the way in innovation thinking and STEM education. Through its cutting-edge Innovation Agenda, Branksome is preparing girls from junior kindergarten to grade 12 to thrive in our fast-paced, ever-changing world — and to do so as unapologetic equals. “It’s about helping to break down the well-documented gender gap in innovation, STEM and entrepreneurism,” says Karen Jurjevich, the school’s principal.
Unique and first of its kind accelerator in Canada
A key component of Branksome’s Innovation Agenda is a new business accelerator called Noodle, which launched this fall. Accelerators are programs that help entrepreneurs develop start-up ventures and support them in realizing their innovative ideas. While common in the post-secondary and corporate sectors, Branksome’s Noodle is the first accelerator based in a Canadian high school. “We’ve called it Noodle because students will be noodling ideas, prototyping and thinking of how they can take their solutions to the next level in a wide range of areas,” says Jurjevich.
The focus of Noodle is to teach students to identify problems, think critically about solutions, and then bring these solutions to the real world through a viable business venture. Noodle is about more than profits, however, as proposed ventures are required to have a societal benefit.
As in all the school’s innovation initiatives, efforts are made to connect the students’ work in Noodle to the real world. Students taking part in Noodle will be mentored by some of the most innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs in Toronto thanks to partnerships with experts in fields such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Jurjevich adds, “many of our teachers have significant previous industry and business experience, so our students will make connections that go well beyond the classroom.”
The Toronto-based, International Baccalaureate, independent girls’ school is leading the way in innovation thinking and STEM education.
Building critical skills through hands-on experiences
In addition to the new Noodle accelerator, Branksome also offers a broad range of innovation programs and access to state-of-the-art facilities and resources. “Last year, Grade 9 students worked with visiting South Korean students from our sister school, Branksome Hall Asia, to improve accessibility in public spaces in Toronto while another student group developed a viable business idea on how to reduce microplastics in our oceans,” says Jurjevich.
Students also compete in various innovation-themed competitions, such as the Astro Pi Challenge. Two years ago, code developed and written by two Branksome Grade 10 students for the Challenge was run by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. “The Branksome team was the only Canadian and only all-girl team among the winners of the 2017-18 Astro Pi Challenge,” says Jurjevich.
Key skills that come out of each of the school’s innovation and STEM initiatives is the ability to collaborate, communicate and solve problems as teams. “We think that’s really important because a lot of the problems these next generations will be solving are complex and will require diverse ways of thinking and diverse groups of people,” says Jurjevich.
By making an innovation mindset possible for each of its students, Branksome Hall is giving girls the tools and the confidence to succeed in any field or endeavour.