Boulder Valley schools present innovation work

When Louisville Middle School started talking about how use innovation money to improve their building, the design team first asked students.

Students talked about what it feels like in dark, closed classrooms in the 1930s part of the building, then drew ideas for improvements. Along with opening up spaces inside, they suggested an outdoor classroom and half-lockers topped with shelves to use as stand-up desks.

Principal Jenny Vidulich said the student ideas were so good, they formed the basis for the architects‘ designs.

“It‘s the kids, really, who are pushing the use of the innovation spaces,” she said, adding the new spaces also led teachers to start talking about what it means to be a learner and to master content.

Teachers and administrators from Aspen Creek PK-8 talk about the school‘s project at the recent meeting of teachers and administrators. ()

“When you change space, you change perspective,” she said. “When you change perspective, you open up minds.”

On Thursday, Louisville Middle was one of six schools presenting their progress a year after adding innovative spaces and furniture through Boulder Valley‘s $576.5 million bond issue approved in 2014.

“It‘s really important for schools to be able to share their work,” said Kiffany Lychock, Boulder Valley‘s director of educational innovations. “This investment is really making a difference for kids in buildings.”

Districtwide, schools are . Elementary schools receive $200,000, middle schools $400,000, K-8‘s $600,000 and high schools $800,000. The projects are staggered over multiple years.

So far, 14 schools have completed innovation projects. The next group, with 14 schools, is getting new spaces and furniture this summer.

To receive the money, schools first must submit plans that include desired learning outcomes and show alignment with district innovation guidelines.

Once the spaces are finished, innovation teams from the schools get together to share their progress, problem solve and visit innovative spaces, such as the Idea Forge at the University of Colorado and Google‘s Boulder offices.

For Thursday‘s showcase, the innovation teams at the schools were asked to create a digital story.

The presentation from Superior‘s Eldorado K-8 included songs and a digital treasure hunt, while Boulder‘s Manhattan Middle offered a digital choose-your-own adventure story so people could explore changes to the school.

“It makes kids feel proud of their space,” Manhattan teacher Brooke Smith said about the improvements. “They‘re more passionate and excited to learn.”

Tracy Stegall, principal at Broomfield‘s Aspen Creek K-8, said her school‘s team started by looking at what‘s archaic, including computer labs. One computer lab is now a “think tank” space for large and small group work, while the other is a distance learning lab.

The library also got an upgrade, as did a “core tech” area in the elementary wing that‘s now a larger, more flexible space for presentations and group work.

In the fall, she said, teachers plan to focus on more personalized learning and connecting makerspace projects to the curriculum.

Boulder‘s Community Montessori Elementary replaced desks with flexible furniture and added shelves for storage to make small classrooms feel bigger. Students at the school are in multi-grade classes and work at their own pace.

“The kids sit everywhere now, but they sit on the floor most of the time,” said Principal Shannon Minch. “What it really did was support who we are as a Montessori school. We just really needed an environment in which to do it.‘

Principals and teachers from the Nederland schools attended Thursday‘s event to prepare for their own upcoming innovation projects.

Nederland Elementary this summer will get more flexible furniture for classrooms and shared spaces, including giving its cafeteria a cafe feel and adding some soft furniture options in the “kiva” space for reading.

“We can build on other people‘s great ideas,” said Principal Laurel Reckert.