A future-ready high school.
The Problem-Solving Incubator (PSI) High program, an innovative model for high school learning, was born out of student insights and contributions. Situated within Seminole High School, this immersive program was the result of a unique initiative by county educators to empower students to shape their own educational future.
The students expressed feelings of alienation, boredom, and frustration due to a lack of equitable opportunities in their previous learning environment. These revelations catalyzed the creation of PSI High, a “school within a school” that prioritizes real-world learning and a student-centered approach. Recognized as a program of emphasis within the district, PSI High now provides over 200 students with a unique experiential learning curriculum. This curriculum seamlessly integrates project- and place-based learning through the lens of design thinking.
At PSI High, students learn in an environment that looks more like a high-tech office than a classroom, with teams of students working together to solve real-world problems. Projects organize student learning around three interdisciplinary tracks: Humanities, STEM, and Innovation and Design, with a focus on entrepreneurship. Students experience rigorous learning through authentic, community-connected projects within these three blocks. Each project must then meet a driving question centered on an issue close to students, engage an authentic audience within the students’ community, and produce a quality deliverable that lives beyond the classroom.
At PSI High, students can freely choose how they want to engage with each project and demonstrate mastery of course skills and content. The program’s mastery-based grading system also helps ensure that students are fully prepared for college, career, and beyond. The program abandons the traditional assignment-driven grade book, replacing it with standards-based grading using rubrics that define when a student has mastered a competency.
“Our students’ future is shaping up to be a place where learning how to learn will be the ultimate skill they’ll need to master. That’s why it’s time we shift the power dynamic and give students a proper seat at the table in their own education.”
“Designed by students, for students, PSI High will serve as living proof that students can play a leading role in changing the world for the better.”
Director of Teaching & Learning for Seminole County Public Schools
Design Principles in Action
Learn how PSI High applies these XQ Design Principles to sustain student success:
Strong mission and culture
At PSI High, students make things. This motto is deeply rooted in the school’s culture of constant creation and applies to every component of the teaching and learning experience. The tight-knit group of school leaders focuses on promoting teacher innovation and student autonomy. Dedicated roles for college counseling, teacher coaching, restorative justice implementation, and community partnership services ensure the school remains committed to its overall vision. Staff reassess the school’s vision each year based on student and teacher feedback data and iterate.
Meaningful, engaged learning
During the school day, students work on projects that serve a real need or add value to the community, such as a traveling micro museum, a sensory garden, and zoo animal enrichment materials. These projects are possible through robust partnerships between PSI High and local government, businesses, and nonprofit service organizations. Additionally, students can specialize in digital design, computer science, or application design by selecting from an enrichment track within the program. Since the school’s beginning, PSI students have participated in the Integrated Business Challenge at the University of Central Florida and have won the top prizes every single year they’ve participated. This event allows students to identify how their school projects can serve the business community and exist in the real world beyond school.
Caring, trusting relationships
Each student at PSI High gets assigned to an advisory cohort of peers they stick with for their entire high school tenure. The teachers leading these advisories guide students through social, academic, and cognitive needs beyond the classroom. Classroom teachers also forge close bonds with students. With restorative practices at the heart of the school’s behavior management approach, teachers get coaching on trauma- and poverty-informed practices, ensuring they know when and how to support student needs best.
Youth voice and choice
Initially designed by a team of high school students, PSI High’s leadership and teaching team play a critical role in integrating student voice into every aspect of the school’s structure. Because PSI High is a small program tucked inside Central Florida’s largest high school campus, PSI students created a student government association to ensure their voice is heard within PSI and in the larger Seminole High School. Students are also part of the school’s hiring process—helping to conduct interviews of potential staff, onboarding, and culture-building.
Smart use of time, space, and tech
PSI High learned how to structure its largest maker space, The Hub, as a place to gather multiple classes from across the school and create a central flex space for student learning. Outside The Hub, individual classrooms are organized by disciplines, so teachers can co-plan and co-teach their integrated projects to encourage more student mobility. School leaders also developed a flexible learning block system based on student and teacher input, creating a flex system on Wednesdays that abandons the traditional seven-bell schedule—allowing students more time to work on dedicated projects and interest-based activities. Many interest-based activities involve students teaching others how to use 3D printing technologies, digital media applications, and artistic expression.
With a dedicated administrator focused solely on business partnerships, teachers at PSI High can easily identify and work with partners that bring authentic learning experiences to the students. Students have worked on projects with Siemens Engineering, Fairwinds Credit Union, the Central Florida Zoo, the University of Central Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, G.R.O.W Central Florida, and the Sanford Museum, among other partners. PSI High also hosts a county-wide college and career fair, bringing dozens of experts and university representatives to the students to enhance their learning and explore post-secondary goals.
- PSI had a 100 percent graduation rate for two years in a row (class of 2021 and 2022). In comparison, Seminole County’s graduation rate was 93 percent, and the state of Florida was 87 percent.
- For the class of 2022, the average SAT score was more than 50 points higher than the statewide average (1037 versus 983).
- On XQ’s Senior Survey for the class of 2022, more than 9 in 10 PSI graduates reported feeling at least somewhat prepared for the future (94 percent), with nine in ten of those students saying PSI High helped them develop creativity and problem-solving skills that would empower them as adults.
- 100 percent of PSI’s 2022 graduates participated in AP courses and exams, nearly triple the rate of 35 percent among US high school graduates in 2022.