Mission Viejo Elementary School
The impact of the new Innovation Spaces at Mission Viejo Elementary School isn’t limited to the students.
Since refurbished spaces formally launched in the school’s media center, Gifted and Talented classroom and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) room at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, the effect has been universal. According to Mission Viejo principal Andre Pearson, the addition of movable furniture, dedicated technology and more open, flexible learning spaces has had a schoolwide impact.
“The energy level and the excitement level have just gone up with these new spaces,” Pearson said. “Even teachers get recharged. Being in the space gives them new ideas, too.”
As third-graders worked on an art project in the school’s library on a recent fall afternoon, the impact of the improvements was hard to miss. The open layout of the new Innovation Space allowed students to interact and collaborate as they created dioramas and landscapes out of pipe cleaners, clay and other materials. The students’ project and work methods aligned closely with the Instructional Excellence priority in Cherry Creek Future Forward, the district’s roadmap for maintaining excellence well into the future.
At the other end of the school, students in the STEM lab were hard at work assembling robots out of LEGO pieces and taking full advantage of the room’s open layout and easy access to technology.
“It’s fun to create technology,” said Lydia Brueckman, a third-grader intent on building a robot. “I like the fact that it’s easy to work together.”
For Pearson and the rest of the staff, the cross-generational appeal of the new spaces is tied closely to the fundamental meaning of innovation in the school. In planning for the new spaces, Pearson said, Mission Viejo staff were focused on incorporating technology in lessons, supporting project-based learning and fostering a “maker’s mindset” for all students.
The final result hit all of these goals and more, Pearson pointed out.
“It’s hard to meet these goals in a traditional classroom,” Pearson said. “These new spaces allow us to hit all of these stages for all of our students.”
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 primary way we use our newly renovated spaces is to help students become producers rather than consumers. We're trying to instill a "maker's mindset" in every student. In our innovation spaces, students dream, plan and build things. Our students and staff have dreamed and planned for years, but now we finally have the tools, the materials, and the place to build things that they've often dreamed and talked about."
-Principal Andre Pearson