Jenks educators transform idea into ‘first of its kind’ program
Several years ago, Jenks High School teachers Justin McCrackin and Kody Engle had an idea to expand the humanities realm within the school district.
The two worked on turning the idea into a reality for nearly a year-and-a-half before the Jenks High School International Scholars Program was born.
McCrackin and Engle had to jump through the usual hoops and present their idea to the Jenks Public School Board and Administration.
Both McCrackin and Engle said they expected to have to address some concerns but were hopeful they would be able to answer any questions thrown their way.
To their surprise and delight, they were met with full support and encouragement to move forward with their project.
“One thing I noticed when we were talking about doing this program was how many students were interested in the humanities,” Engle said. “We wanted to create a program that was going to set them up for success before they went to college. We based a lot of the desire for the program off the growth of A.P. (Advanced Placement) numbers at Jenks. Those students were excelling very well in the humanities programs and we wanted to be able to compound that and improve that a little more.”
McCrackin said once they started contacting other people in the area to get an idea of what they wanted to do, they realized they were blazing a trail.
“We came to realize that there weren’t really any other high schools or secondary schools doing what we wanted to do,” McCrackin said. “There were a lot of exchange opportunities and travel programs, but nothing like what we wanted to do with this new program. We wanted to broaden that scope of those other programs.”
The International Scholars Program at Jenks High School just completed its first year, which was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ISP is designed for high school juniors and seniors. It is written for students to focus on Asia as juniors and Europe and Latin America as seniors.
Since McCrackin and Engle were writing the program from scratch, they said they decided to model it after several prominent universities who had similar departments.
“We based the program off what the University of Florida does, Brown University, Notre Dame University and Kansas University,” Engle said. “Oral Roberts University is starting their own program as well. We built the framework based on what the students will experience after they graduate from Jenks. Our administration was on board very quickly and we immediately had support. That has been great to have from the beginning.”
McCrackin and Engle both said they anticipated approximately 20 students applying for the program in the first year, but had nearly 50, which around 40 were accepted. They will have close to 100 students in the program this coming school year.
Emma Zemanek, who will be a senior at Jenks High School this year, just completed her first year in the ISP program as a junior.
“I have always been interested in history and anything on a global perspective and Jenks doesn’t really have a club directed towards that,” Emma said. “This program allows a lot of students to come together and talk about those things and things that happen globally. It has taken some time for it to evolve to what we wanted it to be, but we knew from the beginning what we wanted this program to be, what we wanted to accomplish. We want to bring awareness to the United States that we are not the only country in the world, that there are things outside our little bubble.”
Emma said it has been a great experience getting to be one of the founding students in a program like ISP.
“It is something I am passionate about,” Emma said. “One of the things I wasn’t expecting was having the opportunity to discuss a lot with other students. I believe that is important. Discussion is important to learning. You can really gain other perspectives and benefit from it. I really like that aspect of the program.”
Emma added that she expects the ISP program to help her prepare for life after Jenks High School as she pursues a career in journalism and international studies.
“I am really interested in politics and things on a global scale,” Emma said. “We have heard some interesting speakers. We have had some speakers come who are Jenks High School graduates and they are doing some amazing things now. It’s cool seeing how things can really be accomplished and how I can really go out and make a change and make a difference on a global scale.”
McCrackin said the students in the ISP program started to really explore and grow and having former students come back to speak has given them even more inspiration for what they want to pursue post high school.
“We are there to support and help more than we are there to lead,” McCrackin said. “We want our students to own the process and own their development. We are more mentors and facilitators and guiding them in pursuing their long-term educational path.”
One area that has been a struggle thus far has been a financial one, Engle said. He added that with students traveling to other countries and across the United States as a part of the program, it puts a burden on them and their families to pay for everything.
Engle said they would like to get to a point with sponsorships and scholarships, where money is not an issue for any of their students.
Giving the students an opportunity to hear powerful speakers is one of the areas of the ISP program both McCrackin and Engle say is very important.
Through the Tulsa Committee of Foreign Relations, the Jenks High School ISP students were able to hear from some prominent people prior to school being shut down due to the Coronavirus.
Here is the list of speakers JHS ISP students got the chance to hear:
November 19, 2019 – The Chengdu Faculty from Chengdu 7 High School visited with the Jenks ISP 2021 cohort and spent some time answering questions about their visit to Jenks.
January 7 – 2017 Jenks High School graduate Sarah Cameron visited the Jenks ISP Cohort about the experiences she had at Jenks High School as it pertained to her humanities courses and how that benefited her, as she has pursued an economics degree at Yale College, while also participating in a summer study abroad at the London School of Economics.
January 13 – Dr. Joshua Landis spoke at the Tulsa Committee on Foreign Relations. Dr. Landis is one of the foremost authorities on Middle Eastern studies and serves as a professor at OU as well as the Director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies. His talk was over “U.S. and the Middle East: Making Sense of Oil, Regime Change, and Forever Wars.”
February 17 – 2011 Jenks High School graduate Anita Joshi spoke to our students about her path to a Bachelor’s Degree in International Economics (Georgetown 2015) and Master’s Degree in Public Policy (University of Chicago 2019). Anita has taken part in multiple opportunities to engage in travel for educational research and study abroad while also engaging in policy endeavors at the local and state level through her studies.
February 26 – Ambassador Todd Buchwald spoke to the TCFR on U.S. engagement with the International Criminal Court and where we go from here. Buchwald served formerly as Ambassador and Special Coordinator for Global Criminal Justice (U.S. State Department) under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies.