What Innovation Lab Means to Me

Reflections from a 2020 Graduate

By Gracie McCooe

I was extremely fortunate to be able to find my home in Innovation Lab. The program emphasizes learning the skills needed to succeed in a rapidly evolving global and technological economy. It revolutionizes learning by using cross-disciplinary learning, growth mindset, and collaboration, to develop proficiency in critical thinking, asking questions, research, and design thinking.  Learning is achieved through projects that engage with the community or solve a problem. Within the projects, I could tap into diverse passions.  

As a student, I was able to be a research scientist, an activist, a historian, a paralegal, and a documentarian.  My passion is environmental action.  I stayed at school until 7pm for weeks to measure plant height for research on eutrophication in STEM class, while creating a documentary about water conservation inspired by rhetorical tactics used by 1920s Muckrakers. The documentary led to a public action campaign on water usage with a local Girl Scout troop and culminated in me engineering a solution, an Arduino-based water sensor, which measured water soil levels and could activate a sprinkler system I used in my backyard. For the first time, I felt like the work I was doing in school mattered.

My teachers respected students as partners in learning and assigned work that reflected a genuine belief in the students’ potential to do more than consume or regurgitate knowledge. We showcased our art in museums, we solved real-world problems in our community, we were not just passive high schoolers but citizens of the world prepared to go on and achieve great things. We were constantly presenting our work to the InLab and greater Greenwich community, so I learned how to present and articulate my ideas better. Frequent group work gave me the opportunity to cultivate leadership. I quickly learned that as a leader, I could maximize the effectiveness of each individual by putting them in a position optimally aligned with their strengths. Eventually, I realized that was what InLab was doing for me. The projects allowed me to develop my skills through personalized learning and my confidence, and my achievement soared.  In InLab, I am part of a family and community, and I continuously challenge myself to set and achieve goals that would “make InLab proud.”

This program inspired me to be a leader and create change in my community, write for the local paper, lead a club on an issue I was passionate about, do original research, speak to the freshman class in an assembly, work for a tech start-up and make an advertisement with 1 million views (and counting), compete nationally in a history competition, and win national writing awards. 

Oh, and by the way. I did take those AP classes. This year I took AP Lit, AP Psych, and AP environmental science and did exceptionally well in all of them. Some people feared that I wouldn’t be able to compete with the other students at “college-level courses” because other students had been preparing all this time. But it turns out that InLab’s rigor – through intensive research, original creation, and project-based learning is fantastic preparation for just about anything you need. When I took these classes, I realized how much we are missing out on by pushing bright students into a “race to the test,” when we could be pushing them to use their learning and abilities to build a positive impact in their communities and world. 

I wish I could tell my past self not to worry so much about the people that tell you about what you “need to do” to get into college. No one really knows what goes on behind those closed doors. When I showed a college counselor my list, she basically told me I would get into none of them. Well, I got into almost every single school I wanted to attend and the school I will be attending in the fall, Wellesley College. I don’t blame the college counselor, though, she underestimated the silver bullet of my application. I was a diverse, interesting, and well-developed person from my experiences in Innovation Lab, and I had something to offer to colleges who were raving about how innovative and cutting-edge their education was in marketing materials. I wish for every student that they worry less about their future and that they have a chance to see what their amazing potential could be now, in an environment where their skills are celebrated, their weaknesses are supported, and they are prepared to join the real world by learning from the real world. 

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being given a space to try anything and everything with your learning, it instills in you a sense of place and control in the greater world. It is one thing to understand how the world works; it is an entirely different thing to feel you have the power to shape it. I think, above all, that is what InLab did for me. 

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2 Responses to What Innovation Lab Means to Me

  1. Jessica von Brachel says:

    Gracie – thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It seems like so long ago that we were each in our first year of Innovation Lab – I as a” teacher,” you as a “student.” The truth is that I was a student as much as you were and I was fortunate to have had teachers like you and your classmates who helped me understand how much I could do by stepping out of your way. Congratulations on your successful high school experience and the exciting academic life you have ahead.

  2. Jen Sullivan says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I am a former middle school teacher, and am a parent of two teens, and what you’ve described includes so many elements of the school/learning experience I wish *every student* received. Kudos, Innovation Lab on leading the way, and giving the world a real-life, in-practice model we can all *see* and ideally disseminate and scale up to many more schools.

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