Upper Arlington High School officials hope a budding research and development program started last year will provide students with ongoing opportunities to cultivate business ideas and tackle real-world issues.

Upper Arlington High School officials hope a budding research and development program started last year will provide students with ongoing opportunities to cultivate business ideas and tackle real-world issues.

UAHS Principal Andrew Theado doesn't see any reason why high school students can't develop a project such as adopting a coffee bean farm, study environmental impacts on the farm and then sell its products through the student-run cafe at their school.

He also thinks collaboration among students, as well as their teachers and business and technology experts from the community could foster great learning opportunities and potentially help address problems locally, regionally or even globally.

That's the crux of an Innovation Lab established at the high school last year, thanks in no small part to a $100,000 grant that was provided to the Upper Arlington Education Foundation (UAEF) by an anonymous donor and then passed on to UAHS.

After a start-up run last year, Theado and the UAEF hope to take the concept to new heights this year, and to spark not only cutting-edge ideas, but to initiate research and development work that could have significant impacts on places outside the school.

"It's a way to cultivate and spread innovative ideas," Theado said. "Last year, we worked the whole year with Battelle and a teacher team. It really started some great conversations in our building that, currently, we're still developing."

Among the ideas was the coffee bean farm proposal, which is being explored.

But Theado said innovation boundaries are limitless, and the Innovation Lab promotes "collaborative learning" methods. The idea is that students and teachers of all grades and subject levels can learn and achieve more by brainstorming and working together.

"We want to hire a research and development leader for the building who could help spark ideas and look at how they can be used in the building," he said. "Now, we're also looking at what innovations we can put our resources into.

"Staff, students and community members can bring something to the research and development lab that they want developed. It's like, 'How do we manage all these different ideas?' "

UA Education Foundation Director Joanie Dugger said the donation to support the Innovation Lab and ongoing research and development efforts was provided by an Upper Arlington family in fall 2012.

She said both the family and the foundation were interested in maintaining Upper Arlington's position "as a lighthouse district for other school districts to emulate."

"Innovative ideas often need seed money," Dugger said. "So, UA schools staff members and students may apply for funds to help get their great ideas off the ground. It is the donor's intention to ignite education in the UA schools and give creative thinkers a place to go when they have the next great innovation that will change the world."

Theado said the coffee bean farm idea is one that was embraced because it offers collaborative teaching and learning opportunities across various subject areas -- science to examine environmental impacts of climate on the farm and the farm's eco footprint, mathematics for running a business and English and language skills needed to market products.

He said developing business models and strategies for running and maintaining a business are important for students, but added the Innovation Lab seeks to address nonprofit issues, such as how to identify a problem in the environment or society and how to improve those situations.

"There's a lot of potential and this really gives us a way to tap into the creativities and strengths of our staff," he said. "You're working through real-world issues."

Those are some of the reasons the UA Education Foundation bought into supporting the program, Dugger said.

"The trustees of the UA Education Foundation are extremely excited about the Innovation Lab at UAHS because it will not only fulfill the donor's passion and intended use of the funds, but it will also provide the space and atmosphere for our students and staff to further explore and pursue their interests and passions in an innovative way for years to come," she said.

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