Walnut Hills Elementary School
All kinds of learning were occurring simultaneously during a fall afternoon in the Innovation Space at Walnut Hills Elementary School. In the Maker Space, students were hard at work assembling projects that detailed their family roots, drawing involved pictures and assembling pieces of artwork rendered of cardboard, construction paper and other materials. Nearby, students in the tech lab had access to all the latest technology, surfing the web on tablets and PCs to research class projects. Other groups took advantage of presentation spaces in the school library, while others opted to work on solo projects in “campfire” nooks, cozy corners designed to encourage individual reading and learning.
The dozens of students in the space were engaged in different projects and varying modes of learning, but they all worked together seamlessly.
“The feel of this space changes our students’ mindsets,” said Walnut Hills Principal Teolyn Bourbonni. “They’re learning, they’re engaged. There’s a buzz, there’s a synergy. No matter what they’re thinking or how they learn, their ideas can come to life.”
What was once a simple library space at the school received a major overhaul during the summer of 2018, and now Walnut Hills offers students a space that fits a broad spectrum of learning needs and styles. In addition to the addition of maker spaces, presentation spaces and the tech lab, the construction included opening up the building to outdoor sources of light – what was once a brick wall now features large windows that open up the mood of the space.
It's made a difference for students like Harper Scholl and Chloe Seppala, Walnut Hills fourth-graders who were hard at work on their family history project.
“It’s easier to work in these spaces,” Scholl said. “We have a quiet room, we have a maker space, we have a lab. It’s really flexible.”
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.”
"Our maker space allows for kids to bring their ideas to life. They love that they can be messy and creative. I have found that our students have a new level of excitement and energy when it comes to learning and caring for each other in our space."
-Principal Teolyn Bourbonnie