From Backpacks to Briefcases

The acclaimed CAPS program, created by Blue Valley School District in 2009, allows students to essentially go to work while still in high school and get a peek at rewarding potential career paths.

film student Ian Roozrokh

In any given weekday this upcoming school year, some 500 juniors and seniors in the Blue Valley School District will leave their high schools to fast forward into their futures.

   They’ll build robots. They’ll conduct sports medicine research or work with veterinarians. They’ll visit local businesses or assume internships. They’ll design a unique commercial food product. They’ll work on patents.

   They’re CAPS students.

   These students, most of whom are college-bound, attend morning or afternoon classes in the district’s expansive, renowned Center for Advanced Professional Studies center at 7501 W. 149th Terrace in southern Overland Park.

   Wearing business-casual dress, they experience hands-on, real-world situations in a profession of their choice while receiving high school and college credit. The program is open to all upperclassmen in the Blue Valley district’s five high schools who can provide their own transportation to the center and business-partner sites.

   “Just about everyone we work with who has been in the building and sees what’s happening says, ‘Boy, I wish this was here when I was in high school,’” says Corey Mohn, CAPS executive director.

   The courses are offered within six strands: accelerator, which features classes in innovation and global food industries; bioscience; business; engineering; human services; and medicine and health care. Within those strands, students can take a number of courses. For example, the engineering sector offers aerospace engineering, robotics and digital electronics courses. The business sector offers global business, interactive design and technology solutions courses, as well as filmmaking and multimedia journalism.

   As the instructor of the filmmaking course, Gina Njegovan has a big item on her bucket list. She wants at least one of her former students to thank her profusely when they received an Academy Award in front of a worldwide television audience.

   “I don’t want to wish small,” she says.

   Njegovan believes her wish may come true. After all, many of the students who have gone through the 5-year-old filmmaking program have continued their film studies. They’ve attended prestigious universities, such as Syracuse University in New York and Chapman University in California, and have interned or worked in various capacities for independent filmmakers or for companies in need of promotional videos.

   “Every semester I have students who just go above and beyond what I thought that they would do, where I thought that they would go,” Njegovan says.

   Her classes address such topics as film production, photography, production budgeting and lighting. Students explore every position on a film and television production set, including director, cinematographer, producer, key grip and set dresser. In June, they each showed a three-minute video they made as a CAPS final project at the AMC Town Center 20 theater.

   One of Njigovan’s students, Ian Roozrokh, 18, is a perfect example of a recent Blue Valley Northwest graduate going places in the film industry. His three-minute video, called Numbers, won two national awards that allowed him to have his own IMDb (Internet Movie Database) page. His film touches on a very 21st-century phenomena:  how some people are obsessed with numerical quantifications on their social media platforms, like how many followers they have on Twitter or You Tube or how many likes they get on Facebook. Numbers was also featured in July at the Teen Fringe Film Festival along with the work of six other filmmaking students.

   Roozrokh is working this summer as a production assistant on a movie being shot in the metropolitan area called Duke, a family drama directed by local filmmaker Amber Rapp about a fighting dog. A fan of such movie directors as Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, Roozrokh plans to attend Columbia College in Chicago to study filmmaking in the fall.

   Before Njegovan’s course, Roozrokh had a passion for photography and “capturing the moment.” After Njegovan’s course, he discovered a passion for motion pictures and knew that was the direction he wanted to go.

   “I don’t know where I’d be without CAPS,” he says. “The course really helped me decide where I want to be. The art of cinema is just beautiful to me.”

   CAPS, which started in the school district in 2009 as a satellite program, was created by outgoing Blue Valley schools Superintendent Tom Trigg, who left the district last month to head a school district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.


robotics student dylan Bergerhofer


  Trigg wanted the program to provide a more relevant education to juniors and seniors. “It’s experiential learning,” Trigg says of CAPS. “It’s project-based learning. It gives the kids an opportunity to determine, ‘Is this something I really want to do?’ One of the most valuable experiences is when a young person gets out there and learns, ‘Hey, I don’t want to learn this.’ It saves them and their parents four years of tuition in the wrong field.

   “We daily hear parents telling us how it’s transformed the education of their kids, how it’s just lit a fire for them because it’s relevant. They’re getting to do something that’s meaningful.”

   CAPS works with more than 200 active business partners and mentors to identify demand in industries and then adapt its course offerings. Local business partners include Black & Veatch, Cerner, AMC Theaters and Garmin.

   One such business partner and mentor is Ron Gier, vice president of human resources operations at Sprint, with two sons who went through the CAPS program.

   “Part of Sprint’s focus and my focus is the recognition that the world is becoming more and more technically sophisticated,” Gier says. “At the same time, your future workforce is dropping out of their math and their science and their technology education early in their educational career. So the attachment to my role here is the support of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. It’s something that is very important to the Kansas City community, and it is important to all companies that have a technical need because that’s really where your future job market is.”

   As CAPS enters its seventh year, former CAPS students are starting to or already have graduated from college.

   “It will be very interesting to see what is attached to those names in another 10 years,” Gier says.

   CAPS is so well renowned, Mohn says, that other states’ school districts are emulating it, such as those in Missouri, Nebraska, Arizona, Utah, Arkansas and Minnesota. At least that many states are set to be added this school year.

   To find their particular fit, many CAPS students have taken all four semesters with four different classes or strands. For example, some start out in engineering but eventually switch to medicine, or vice versa.

   “With more students comes more opportunity to personalize learning and that means more work to get the pipeline of projects ready for those students,” Mohn says. “We don’t teach linearly. We don’t have a textbook that if you sign up for Foundations of Medicine you’re going to go Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3. Scale-up for us isn’t, ‘Well, we’ll just buy a few more books.’ We have to find a customized project that meets the needs of the student.

   “That’s a good challenge to have because it means we’re needing to help more and more students find what’s important to them and to get the experience they need to be successful. It’s going to help us find innovative ways to make the best connections we can for the students and to find more partners in areas where we haven’t looked before.”  

Dylan Bergerhofer, 17, will join the CAPS robotics study strand this school year as a senior at Blue Valley High School. He has already been part of the high school robotics team, called Metal Mustang Robotics, since he was a freshman. It is an extra-curricular activity that meets at the CAPS building, with each student team given six weeks to build a robot.

   The whole experience has solidified Bergerhofer’s career path choice even prior to attending college. He plans to major in mechanical engineering at Wichita State University next year. “When I first joined the robotics team, I was thinking of multiple types of engineering that I would like to do, but through working with the robotics team I found that the hands-on part of actually building a robot is what I like the most and the mechanical side of engineering,” he says. “So it actually helped me find what type of engineering I like to study.”

   For more information about the CAPS program visit or call (913) 239-5900.