Challenge School (K-8)
Students steered the design of the Challenge School’s new Innovation Space.
In reimagining the part of the building that had long housed a traditional library and attached office spaces, school leaders wanted to take cues directly from students at the Cherry Creek School District’s K-8 magnet school. In selecting the new, flexible furniture that allows students to more easily collaborate and move, in designing green screen rooms that allow students a firsthand media production experience and in reformatting the look and feel of the space to provide distinct spaces for students of all ages, Challenge administrators made sure that students had a voice in the process.
“It really has opened my mind to giving control to kids to let them guide us as to how to better use our spaces,” said Challenge School Principal Dave Strohfus. “It’s letting them work in ways that they’re more comfortable with, letting them choose how to interact with their content and how to interact with their peers.”
That dedication was showing real results almost immediately after the space launched with the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. On a fall morning in September, a diverse group of students were fully engaged in the innovative features of their new workspace. Seventh-graders tackled complicated math problems as teams, writing out long, involved equations directly on their dry-erase, movable boards. On the other side of the space, younger students perused books and found quiet nooks to read or work on assignments.
Carter Steine, Valmik Vattipalli and James Morgan, seventh-graders engaged in high-level math work, said the refitted space offered a brighter, more welcoming feel, even as it provided more resources to focus and engage in problem-solving.
“One of the coolest parts is that they added all of these green screen rooms and new tables and bookshelves. Everything here is new,” Vattipalli said. “It’s a really good place for working – the tables are whiteboards, you can see all of your work and it’s really easy.”
Similar spaces have gone 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. This innovative approach to learning is also tied directly to the Instructional Excellence priority in Cherry Creek Future Forward, the district’s roadmap for maintaining educational excellence.
“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,” said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried. “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.”
"These newly designed spaces will make students more involved and active in the learning process. Kids will have more autonomy in how they interact with their learning and their classmates. Students are helping to teach us how to best use these new spaces in ways that we haven't even thought of yet!"
-Principal David Strohfus