Student learning at the Innovation Center transcends the traditional classroom and provides experiential opportunities that are developing today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders, innovators and changemakers. In addition to rigorous extended learning and mentorship opportunities, students gain valuable experience through employment that focuses on designing and engineering technology solutions for industry and community partners.
In providing real work for real pay, offering professional/technical certifications for advanced careers, and supporting the excellent coursework at each of our focus high schools, the Innovation Center (IC) offers a distinct and unique competitive advantage for the students in our district. This iconic building provides an agile space for the intentional collision of ideas and projects and, therefore, an ideal space for innovation.
We believe that where you learn matters, and the IC was designed in partnership with students, educators, community members, board members, and professional partners over the course of many months. IDEO, the design firm for the Innovation Center, hosted a two-day workshop with stakeholders across all of those areas in order to help us not only craft an incredible space but also sharpen programming so that both might exhibit the values and beliefs we hold about student possibility and community collaboration. The architects, Anderson Mason Dale out of Denver, added more detail and thought to that vision, and developed the professional space we now enjoy as a community. The ability of the space to change and adapt to the needs of the users mirrors the agility and adaptability we strive for as a system.
At the IC, we see students and educators as a catalyst for innovation in a large district. We embrace strategic risk-taking while supporting educators and learning environments throughout the district with implementation of innovations as they move toward mainstream use.
In 2012, St. Vrain applied and was awarded the Race to the Top Grant, supplementing traditional funding with an additional $16.6 million to implement STEM integration and personalized learning approaches. As part of this grant the Innovation Center was created to provide professional STEM experiences to students through industry partnerships and paid work for students.
The design of the Innovation Center was a natural extension of the STEM pathway at Skyline High School. In collaborating with students and families through the design process, a number of ideas surfaced that couldn’t be fully addressed with the STEM certificate. As a district, when we learn there is promise in a prototype, we seek ways to make that opportunity available across our system. The Innovation Center is a way for us to scale our response to key learnings from Skyline as well as augment the focus areas of our other excellent high schools.
One of the big lessons was that paid work in STEM has a range of positive benefits for students and their families. We found that many of our young people were already employed, and that if we were going to try to engage them in learning that took them away from hours in which they were currently working and earning, we were going to have to find opportunities for paid work. The opportunity for real pay meant we could engage a larger number of students in applied STEM learning. We also found that when students had paid STEM work experiences they viewed postsecondary options in a more favorable light. Even with scholarships and aid, the opportunity cost of delaying full-time work and earnings to pursue college often did not resonate as well. However, students benefit from a new understanding that postsecondary education is a viable way to gain skills that could result in increased earnings. The paid work made the idea of skillbuilding leading to increased earning clear and tangible.
As a result, the Innovation Center was designed to expand the number and types of paid work experiences available across our district, as well as provide coursework and certifications that would provide our students a distinct, competitive advantage. Programming was designed to align with industry demand and culminate in professional credentials, certifications, and college credits wherever possible. Those certificates and credits communicate to a student that they have a set of skills that industry values, which helps them make the connection between learning, skill-building, earning, and success. They also ensure that if a student does not immediately continue into postsecondary, they have an excellent opportunity to acquire jobs within and beyond our network of employer partners.
This idea of paid work embedded in industry is also what inspired us to launch our first P-TECH program, FalconTech. In P-TECH, we have the ability to keep students in our system a little longer (up to 14th grade), pay for their first round of college coursework through a targeted Associate degree pathway, and ensure extended paid work experience in industry.
Currently, the Innovation Center offers 19 advanced courses and multiple industry-level professional certifications, and pays over 100 student designers for their work after school.
The Innovation Center offers experience in a wide variety of technologies including: aeronautics, bioscience, robotics, technical certifications for both Apple and PC, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, TV Production, Entrepreneurship, Cyber Security and Artificial Intelligence.
We also offer the following industry recognized certifications:
- Apple Certified Technician
- TriCaster Operator Certification
- CompTIA A+ Software Certification
- CompTIA A+ Hardware Certification
- Intro to Cybersecurity – Microsoft Security Fundamentals
- UAS Pilot Certification