Jeffco Schools continues investment in innovation

Jeffco Schools furthers its investment in innovative ideas with a new round of funded projects through the Jeffco Innovation Acceleration Fund. This round, known as 2.0, grouped ideas by cost. Two “big ideas” won funding, along with three “medium ideas” and 14 ideas receiving minimal funding.

Big Idea Winners (> $50K)

Chatfield High School hopes to help more students “receive the individualized direct contact and support they desire and need to be successful” by investing in paraprofessionals. Comparing the idea to the increased responsibility of physician’s assistants in a doctor’s office, Chatfield administrators believe additional paraprofessional training, responsibility and student contact will benefit students.

Brady High School and Sobesky Academy, both Jeffco option schools, are teaming up to re-engage students who have dropped out of Jeffco Schools. After identifying and connecting with these students, a re-engagement teacher will enroll them in an online curriculum, Edgenuity, until the students re-enroll in a school. The students will also benefit from weekly face to face meetings focused on tutoring and progress monitoring, plus connections to needed wrap around services, including mental health resources.

Medium Idea Winners ($5 – $50K)

The Chatfield Articulation Area will also see funds for the newly created South Jeffco Children’s Theater (SJCT), to be housed at Mortensen Elementary School. Serving south Jeffco students in grades 3-12, SJCT aspires “to create exemplary theater arts experiences that will nurture, empower, and inspire young people and [the] community.”

In the Jefferson Articulation Area, all four schools (EdgewaterLumberg and Molholm elementaries and Jefferson Junior/Senior High) will now have access to tools and spaces for students to bring Problem-Based Learning (PBL) to action. By investing in portable makerspaces, robotics and other STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) supplies, students will be able to design, prototype and bring to life the solutions they develop for real world problems.

Hutchinson Elementary, in the Green Mountain Articulation Area, is focusing outside the classroom by investing in resources from Imagination Playground. The equipment allows students to design a playground model with smaller pieces, then replicate and test that playground design with large, life-size pieces. Students can also reuse design items, allowing students of all ages to apply their engineering skills.

Small Idea Winners (< $5K)

Fremont Elementary, in the Arvada West Articulation Area, will use innovation funds to bridge the technology gap first grade students currently experience. While Fremont kindergarten students use iPads, and students in grades 2-5 use Chromebooks, first grade students only have access to older, outdated technology. Innovation funds will enable Fremont to purchase 12 touch-screen Chromebooks for first grade use, plus a license to Pebble Go to utilize non-fiction science and social studies texts online.

Bear Creek‘s Kendallvue Elementary will increase students’ access to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education by converting an unused classroom into an “Innovation Lab,” with touchscreen technology, audio/video equipment and integrated microscopes.

In the Columbine Articulation Area, Ken Caryl Middle School hopes the addition of flexible seating, such as bean bag chairs, exercise balls, stools, standing desks, low tables with cushions, scoop chairs, wobble chairs and movable desks, will inspire creative, innovative, critical thinking, collaboration and a connection to state-of-the-art work spaces seen in many companies today.

Conifer High School will build on its AMPED (Algebra 1 in Manufacturing Processes, Entrepreneurship and Design) program to make math classes more engaging and relevant to students’ future career and college choices.

Colorow Elementary, in the Dakota Ridge Articulation Area, will challenge students with hands on learning tools, including Ozobots, Cubelets, Breakout EDU, Code Hopper, and Code & Go Robot Mouse. Using these tools to work together, innovate, problem solve and share ideas, students will experience more authentic learning.

Physics classes at Evergreen High School will become more fun and engaging when students gain access to 2D laser cutters and 3D printers. Evergreen knows most of its physics students are also beginning drivers, so will create opportunities for students to design cars to study velocity, acceleration, stopping distance and inertia, then move to more complex concepts such as momentum, impulse, friction, collisions, energy transfer and circuits. By the end of the year, students will convert their cars to solar power. Other project ideas include catapults, instruments to study sound and wavelengths, and wind turbines.

At Bell Middle School, in the Golden Articulation Area, 7th grade science classes will move from hands on frog dissection and egg incubation and hatching into investigations-based learning about hunger and nutrition. Once students have a firm grasp of how organisms obtain and use energy, students will develop solutions for hunger-related issues facing the world, “collaborating with English language arts, social studies, and engineering.”

Green Mountain High School hopes to provide richer, more engaging learning experiences for students with disabilities by increasing access to PBL, STEM and other hands-on lessons. Utilizing high interest/low level books detailing meaningful social studies and science material, lessons will encourage students to connect with the school’s outdoor garden and soon-to-be-built growing dome through projects such as compost tumblers, complete with worms, solar panel kits, lizard habitats and a rock garden where they can learn more about weathering and erosion.

Big Ideas winner Brady High School will also benefit from Small Ideas funds. Forming an “Energy Group” with teachers from various content areas, Brady will expose students to opportunities to work on projects where energy can be renewable, sustainable, conserved and innovated. Student projects should aim to reduce carbon footprints and help conserve resources. Students will have access to a variety of energy-related equipment, including solar panels, power inverters, cables, small wind turbines, charge controllers and batteries.

A winner in the Medium Ideas category, the Jefferson Articulation Area also scored Small Ideas funds to help kindergarten, first- and second-grade students expand their research of high-quality texts by being able to Skype with experts, use iPads as a research tool, ask “Alexa” about facts and figures, and interact with a variety of science models and real life objects. The funds will also provide a GoPro so students can make videos documenting their lab time.

In the Lakewood Articulation Area, implementation of the “Leader In Me” student leadership model will focus on academics, culture and life skills. First, teachers will train on Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” so they can practice and model those habits. Teachers will then educate students about those habits using a child-appropriate text, “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.”

One classroom in the Pomona Articulation Area will have more books to inspire readers. When students choose a book they find interesting, they first talk about what they hope to attain by reading that book, and then they check in with teachers along the way. Adding to the classroom library will mean more choices for students to grow into reading more difficult words, pose more in-depth questions and develop more creative theories.

West Woods Elementary in the Ralston Valley Articulation Area will add a 3D printer to its STEM program, allowing students to turn 2D concepts into physical products. Students will engage in research, analysis and planning, while also developing math and communications skills. The 3D printer will also facilitate learning about digital fabrication, robotics, coding and circuitry.

A new Advancing Gator Readers program will help struggling Sheridan Green Elementary students (Standley Lake Articulation Area) avoid sliding backward in their skill level over summer break. Using the DIBELS early childhood literacy test as a benchmark, students with lower scores will receive 10 days of additional targeted instruction during June, just before they leave for summer vacation, and in July they will have 10 more days to re-acclimate to school routines and reading instruction.

Equity in Innovation

This year, Jeffco Schools used a different system, Pair Matrix Voting, to determine the winners of the Innovation Acceleration Fund 2.0 dollars. Jeffco Chief Strategy Officer Dr. Tom McDermott also prioritized spreading investment across articulation areas. “We awarded the top ‘Small’ (< $5K) [funds] to the top voted idea in each articulation area that applied.” McDermott added, “When you compare the recipients from last year to this year, we do see recipients that are more geographically representative of Jeffco.”

McDermott also said “the top ‘big’ ideas explicitly target underserved populations (special education and drop-outs).”

The Innovation Acceleration Fund is designed to invest “in innovation and ideas to improve the learning experiences and outcomes for students,” according to a 2018 press release. The Jeffco School Board approved initial funds at a January 2017 meeting, and an additional $1 million in the 2018/2019 budget.

Jeffco employees will have an opportunity to apply for the next round of innovation funding in October 2019.

Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson is a Jeffco Schools parent, married to a Jeffco grad and the daughter of two Jeffco Schools grads. Prior to staying home with her sons, Kelly worked in public relations, specializing in retail, restaurants and crisis communications, and as a local television news producer. Kelly graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. Please visit our "About Us" page to learn more about Kelly and our other writers.