Holly Hills Elementary School
A meditative ambience ruled in Holly Hills Elementary School’s new Innovation Space during a morning art class held on a sunny September morning.
Classical music streamed from classroom speakers as students mounted computer-rendered portraits on small canvas frames, combining high-tech software and personal expression in a project rooted in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM). Working individually and in small groups, the fifth-graders took full advantage of all the resources available in the newly refurbished and redesigned Innovation Space, from flexible furniture to high-tech tools.
What had been a group of isolated offices before the improvements that took place during the summer of 2019 was now an open environment, one designed to encourage students to problem-solve, investigate and fully immerse themselves in learning. The layout of Holly Hills’ new Innovation Space typifies CCSD’s commitment to Instructional Excellence as sketched out in Cherry Creek Future Forward.
Though students, teachers and administrators had only had a few weeks to make full use of the new space, the effects were already obvious. Principal Molly Drvenkar noted how the revamped STEAM room and the improvements to the school’s media center have had a positive impact on all members of the Holly Hills community.
“It’s changed the mindset of the teacher to be able to utilize the space in a way that promotes student ownership in the direction they’re going to take with their learning,” she said. “The shift in the physical space has helped change the mindset of instruction for students and teachers. Students are free to navigate independently and collaboratively … It’s fascinating to see.”
Fifth-grader Preston Wamalwa was taking full advantage of the expanded space and the new tools in multiple disciplines. During the art class, he marveled at the size and scope of the space that, until the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, had been offices that were off-limits to students. The new space opened avenues to different modes of artistic expression for Wamalwa, even as it helped him drill down deeper into his favorite subject.
“It’s really about science for me. I just love science. It’s my favorite subject,” Wamalwa said. “It’s easier to do science here. You can put music on, people won’t be as loud and there’s actual space – you can get messy and you can talk to people. You can work together.”
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.
“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.”
"The shift in innovative teaching practices aims to provide rigorous learning experiences for students that promote higher level thinking skills and collaboration among students. Innovative learning experiences increase cognitive, behavioral and affective engagement in the learning process."
-Principal Molly Drvenkar