Rolling Hills Elementary School
Principal Ashley Gehrke wanted to build on what the staff at Rolling Hills Elementary School was already doing. In designing the school’s new Innovation Space, Gehrke and the teachers at Rolling Hills wanted to create a clear connection to what their focus has already been for students in all grades: offering immersive, collaborative and exciting access to learning.
“It all came from our teachers,” Gehrke said as she stood in the school’s refurbished media center, which now features moveable furniture, collaboration spaces and easy access to neighboring art and science spaces. “It’s become more of a common area, and it’s more useful to everyone.”
The spirit of collaboration and team problem-solving was alive and well as Gehrke toured through the space on a recent fall afternoon. Students had moved the space’s portable furniture to corners to work in groups; others had taken up seats in the media center’s new presentation area, a spot that featured stadium seating on comfy cushions and a direct view of a sizable whiteboard/presentation screen. Others had found cozy nooks to curl up with a treasured books, while a class of art students worked on projects in the room next door.
Fifth-graders Rivik Goyal, Marko Kalasountas, Jack Chatelain and Maddie Santero had staked out a spot near the entrance, swapping ideas as they worked on a project that combined art, history, geography and anthropology. The students were looking at traditional art from cultures around the world and working to incorporate certain elements in their own, original designs.
According to the students, the openness and warmth of the new space was helpful in giving them room to focus and work as a team. What’s more, the access to the proper technology, from tablet computers to laptops, helped make the research more accessible and fun.
“It was such a small space before,” Goyal said. “Now you can do research.”
“You have space to write,” Kalasountas added.
Similar spaces will go up in every elementary and middle school in the Cherry Creek School District, and came through funding approved by voters in 2016. The spaces are designed to develop skills like collaboration, inquiry, empathy, problem-solving, curiosity, innovative thinking and passion. According to the latest academic research, as well as firsthand input from parents, teachers and other members of the CCSD community garnered during the Cherry Creek 2021 initiative, these are the skills that are integral to preparing students for a 21st-century academic and professional landscape.
“We worked with business, we worked with industry and we worked with colleges when we created the focus of what our innovation spaces would be. The goal is helping our students become critical thinkers,” Siegfried said. “We want them to use knowledge in different ways, and we want them to learn to effectively learn to work with other people.” Siegfried added that every innovation space was designed to meet the unique needs of every separate school and community.
“One of the greatest parts of our innovation work is allowing every school, every principal, every student and every community to be engaged in what innovation should look like at their school,” Siegfried said. “This is the next iteration of excellence.”
"Students can demonstrate achievement in a variety of ways. When students solve real-world problems and answer complex questions, they are more authentically engaged in their learning and inspired to help their communities."
-Principal Ashley Gehrke