Jeffco Schools Innovation Fund winners seek to improve student experience

Increased STEM and STEAM programming, more opportunities to learn about careers, expanded access to health services and mental health supports, and improved safety and security are just a few of the innovations Jeffco Schools began implementing this spring thanks to a new $1 million Jeffco Innovation Acceleration Fund.

Jeffco Schools employees submitted 104 applications to the fund in February. Fifty-one scored high enough to move on to the second round, where teams had 10 minutes to pitch their ideas and answer questions from committees that included district staff, community members and education experts.

Jeffco announced ten winners in early March.

Innovation Fund winning proposals

  • Stott Elementary School’s “Tinker Lab,” where students will have the space, materials and equipment to design and build large projects over several days or possibly longer, ensures each grade level can implement at least one Project Based Learning (PBL) program each trimester.
  • Golden High School will soon have a “technical creative maker space,” a lab that blends the STEAM disciplines together. Noting this blended approach is a best practice, Golden teachers believe this space will compliment the school’s STEAM diploma endorsement, and inspire future scientists, engineers, doctors and others seeking STEAM-related careers. Golden also hopes to promote a seamless transition from the STEM offerings at its feeder middle school, Bell, and carry those forward as students make college and career decisions.
  • The need for a foundational understanding of robot building inspired VanArsdale Elementary teacher Tami Thompson to apply for innovation funds. “I want students to understand the engineering principles inherent in all machines, not just robots,” Thompson said. Thompson will use the funds to purchase various engineering kits, complete with student-friendly CAD design programs, and believes this foundation will help students excel in mechanical engineering.
  • Career exploration also showed up as a common theme in the Innovation Fund winners. Wheat Ridge and Dakota Ridge high schools teamed up to ask for money to enrich Career Explore, their program for engaging high school juniors and seniors in their own futures. In the first phase, students will have several opportunities to explore a variety of careers, while still spending four daily class periods in core curriculum subjects with curriculum modified to include industry-specific content. The second phase provides off-site industry training for the students, culminating in the third phase with a 160-hour paid internship in the students’ chosen fields. Throughout the process, students will compile a portfolio and eventually make a Capstone presentation to ensure they have met the Colorado Department of Education’s competency requirements in both language arts and math.
  • The Green Mountain Articulation Area will use Innovation Funds to move to a K-12 Academy Program, significantly expanding access to the Academy Program Green Mountain High School has had for the past decade. Green Mountain-area students will have access to learning in four academies: Arts, Humanities & Performing Arts, Business & Global Studies, Health & Human Services, and STEM. Elementary students will experience agriculture, STEM, the arts and other community-sponsored learning in a deeper way. Dunstan Middle School, with an increased number of CTE (Career & Technical Education) certified educators, also will expand its offerings of more rich electives for students. The Green Mountain team believes this significant program extension will increase the number of students authentically ready for college, career and life.
  • Fletcher Miller School received innovation funds to update its Adapted Daily Living Instructional Space with Smart appliances and other more appropriate, better-adapted equipment. This means Fletcher Miller’s secondary level and transition-age students will soon have access to appliances, utensils, materials and even bathroom space that better meets their needs. This also means those students will leave Fletcher Miller with stronger pre-vocational and daily living skills. In addition, students will experience a new career exploration and social skills curriculum. The Fletcher Miller team noted their current setup simply did not provide what these students truly need to move on to the next phase of their lives.
  • North Arvada Middle School hopes to improve the climate for students and educators by implementing new programming focused on empathy and social thinking. Staff training and student materials will increase student engagement in their learning. Items such as noise-canceling headphones, therapy balls and fidgets will help students manage their energy while keeping them in the classroom so they do not miss out on learning opportunities. North Arvada’s innovation funds will also enable the school to establish a permanent space where students can refocus before returning to their classrooms.
  • Jeffco’s Department of Health Services will add two more School Based Health Centers (SBHCs). Located at Golden and Arvada high schools, these new centers will focus on prevention, early identification and treatment of students’ physical and mental health, and even dental health. Some of the innovation funds will go toward creating a room in each of the two schools that is specifically designed to house these centers. In addition, all Jeffco Schools registered nurses will increase efforts to assist SBHCs with health education and illness prevention.
  • Dave Kollar, Director of the Office of Dropout Prevention and Recovery, secured innovation funds to provide programming for students district-wide who might otherwise drop out of school. Partnering with Arapahoe Community College and Red Rocks Community College, Jeffco Schools will now provide students with access to high school equivalency (HSE) accreditation, and even opportunities to earn community college credits in the process. Kollar believes a focus on students’ futures by helping them “look forward and work towards [high school] competency and college entrance and certification,” rather than focusing only on recovering credits simply to earn a high school diploma, will inspire more students to stay on a path that strengthens their future opportunities.
  • The office of Safety and Security, directed by John McDonald will use innovation funds to add a Director of Safe School Environments to the department. The position functions as a bridge between school safety, readiness for learning, and the many social and emotional challenges that go with students transitioning either to middle or high school. Jeff Pierson is moving from his position as principal of Standley Lake High School to begin working with campus supervisors and manage the Safe2Tell program. Pierson will also collaborate with students, school and district staff, and state officials to address prevention and intervention, and work closely with students and schools to minimize the increase in school safety issues and at-risk behaviors typically seen when students move from elementary to middle school or middle to high school.

The Innovation Acceleration Fund is designed to invest “in innovation and ideas to improve the learning experiences and outcomes for students,” according to the press release. The fund was established through a Jeffco School Board vote in December 2017.

The district distributed “year one” funding for the winning innovations in mid-March. Recipients must spend those dollars in the current school year to implement programs. While many of the funding requests span three years, the 10 selected innovations must show implementation of ideas and progress to receive funding in the second and third years.

 

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.