Holly Ridge Elementary School
A reflective, meditative mood ruled in the new Innovation Space at Holly Ridge Elementary on a recent fall morning.
Though the second-graders who gathered in the space’s dedicated reading nook sat in groups of five or six, they weren’t distracted or occupied with random conversations. Instead, they were intent on the books in their laps, immersed in their quiet reading time and engaged in study. Students took breaks only to point out a memorable passage to one of their peers, or to sneak a glance at their neighbor’s reading material. Their focus wasn’t broken by a separate class of students engaged in an art project at the other end of the room.
According to Holly Ridge Principal Molly Drvenkar, such engagement isn’t rare in the school’s newly refurbished Innovation Space, which features collaborative learning nooks, flexible furniture and increased access to technology via a green screen room, a bank of laptops and a large selection of interactive robots and other STEM tools. All of these elements support the Instructional Excellence priority in Cherry Creek Future Forward, the district’s roadmap for maintaining excellence well into the future.
In total, the new space features three distinct sections, each designed to promote and encourage a different style of learning. At one end of the room, a dedicated Maker Space gives students the space and freedom to create and collaborate; the library portion of the Innovation Space includes plenty of room for students to congregate and learn together; and dedicated rooms offer focused opportunities to engage in STEM learning.
According to Drvenkar, the space’s flexibility and diverse learning opportunities have already shown concrete results. Students have the freedom and the resources to engage in different styles and modes of learning, even as they’re encouraged to learn and grow from the insights of their peers.
“The focus here was about building community,” Drvenkar said, pointing to murals painted on the walls that depict cultural icons and cues from the diverse community of both Holly Ridge and neighboring Holly Hills. “The intention here was to create a hub to bring children together and celebrate their differences. It’s about promoting interdependence and collaboration.”
Penelope Davenport, a 7-year-old second-grader, said the range of resources in the new space had already opened new worlds for her in her daily learning routine. Thanks to the technology and freedom available in the new space, Davenport has made conceptual connections between the creativity of art projects and the STEM principles involved in green screen and robot work.
“It’s easier to do all kinds of projects here,” she said. “I want to be a science person, and it’s really fun to do science projects in this space.”
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.”
"The innovation centers are responsive to the individual needs of students. Students excel in a learning environment where they feel safe to take risks, construct their own meaning and communicate with peers throughout the process."
-Principal Molly Drvenkar