Liberty Middle School
Kevin Doherty didn’t know where precisely to start when he first started thinking about redesigning Liberty Middle School’s traditional library space to fit the needs of 21st-century learners.
As Liberty’s principal, Doherty had a key role in fulfilling the charge for every elementary and middle school in the Cherry Creek School District: to create an Innovation Space that better suits the needs of learners, and that reflects the Instructional Excellence priority in Cherry Creek Future Forward, the district’s roadmap for maintaining educational excellence.
“It was overwhelming,” Doherty recalled as he stood in the refurbished space that opened to students at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. “It was a mindset shift. It forced us to imagine how to do things differently.”
Doherty and the rest of the Liberty team soon overcame their initial hesitations, thanks in no small part to the larger community and the students themselves. Incorporating feedback from parent groups, teachers and Liberty students, a plan for a different kind of learning environment coalesced. It was a scheme that incorporated an open design and plenty of room for collaboration, one that allowed students plenty of resources to work in groups and individually. The new Innovation Space would incorporate technology, state-of-the-art furniture and a commitment to encouraging problem-solving and individual initiative.
“Here’s the bottom line: kids today learn differently than when I was in school,” Doherty said. “Our students realize that. Our kids know that they want to interact with each other, they know they want to use technology and innovate. All of our students have responded to this space.”
Thanks to a more open design, a bevy of flexible furniture and distinct spaces designed to accommodate group work and interaction with technology, students at Liberty have the resources they need to engage and grow. In one room on a recent weekday, a group of students had listed their priorities on an interactive whiteboard: “Focus, Don’t Mess Around, Actually READ!” In a neighboring space, sixth-grader Trinity Hunt and her peers worked on a project that saw them designing their own logos.
“My favorite part of this new space is all of the cool seating arrangements,” Hunt noted as she worked with her group. “This is the crafting area, and I have more space to work.”
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 about experimenting with how we use new technology, furniture, and the area in general in order to demonstrate learning in new and unique ways. One student asked me "Why did you do this?" I responded "This is how students learn today." The student responded "You're right. We do learn differently."
-Principal Kevin Doherty