Dakota Valley Elementary School
Dakota Valley Elementary School’s old library was hardly inviting.
Principal Aisha Johnson recalls how the media center once lacked the light, the space and the tools to match the innovative, 21st-century learning that students needed. Johnson said what was once the school’s central library hub lacked the true potential for problem-solving, engagement and team-building that are hallmarks of the Cherry Creek School District’s current approach to educational excellence.
“It wasn’t exactly user-friendly. Our old library was dark, and check-out was a clunky process,” Johnson said, pointing out that the old space was the original design dating from the building’s 1999 construction. “It was difficult to match the learning we’re trying to do with the limitations of the space.”
That all changed at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, when the additions made possible by the bond funds approved by voters in 2016 officially launched. What was once a traditional library is now an Innovation Space designed specifically to meet the demands of innovative learning. Johnson notes that between the new lighting scheme that creates a refreshing sense of movement and energy to the updated furniture and classroom tools designed to accommodate movement, teamwork and multiple groups working at once, the space has transformed into a vital and central hub for the entire school.
“Classes can come together here,” Johnson said. “Our students can engage in bigger projects; teachers can interact in a different way. Our entire community is really excited. Our new space is open, inviting and innovative.”
That much was clear as a group of fourth-graders worked on designing their own coding projects. As Macilyn Quiring worked closely with her peers to design the landscapes, movements and action of their own original video game, she noted that the layout and feel of the space was completely different from last year.
“The room was much smaller last year,” she said. “It’s so much easier to work with more people and have fun in this room now. There’s more space; it’s a better place to work and learn.”
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.”
"Students are excited for the opportunity to learn in our new spaces. We now have a dedicated STEM room where they can engage in learning experiences without switching rooms. They are also looking forward to finding a comfy place to curl up with a book in our library. We are looking forward to being able to have students spread out in our PBL space and overflow into the library (if necessary) while working on collaborative projects with their class. Teachers now have a place for students to work on projects without having to shove all of their furniture to the side. A bonus is that we have a place to store our students work in progress too!"
-Principal Aisha Johnson