Prairie Middle School
Students at Prairie Middle School don’t want to leave their new Innovation Space when the school day ends.
What was once a traditional library relaunched as a refurbished and reimagined learning space in time for the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. The newly refitted space features two separate maker spaces, several production rooms with green screen technology and a brand new stage that can host student presentations and performances. All of these improvements and updates tie in directly to the district’s commitment to Instructional Excellence, which is a key component of CCSD’s Future Forward Strategic Plan.
Mere weeks into the new school year, the lure of the new Innovation Space and the value of the push toward Instructional Excellence was clear.
“Our students are seeing the possibilities, and they’re showing interest in staying after school to use the new space,” said Prairie Middle School Principal John Contreraz. “We’re putting together a program where they can stay here to study, or they can do hands-on activities as a learning extension.”
Creating that sense of excitement was a key goal as Contreraz and the rest of the school’s innovation team planned their new space. The crew’s priority was offering students a space that matched the demands and complexities of 21st-century learning, he said; the team wanted to balance intricacy and academic rigor with a welcoming and comfortable ambience.
“We really wanted to put kids in a space where they can create, they can build, they can solve real-world problems,” Contreraz said. “We wanted to give our teachers tools to go beyond what they can do in a traditional classroom.”
Indeed, the improvements serve as a source of innovation, problem-solving and collaboration for students and teachers alike. Even as students find more routes to engagement and learning in the expanded maker spaces and presentation areas, teachers have more space to plan, engage and brainstorm about upcoming lessons.
“We were able to make it a much more versatile space for students and for learning, as opposed to a place where you can just check out books,” John Contreraz said. “Our biggest priority as an innovation team at Prairie Middle School was to give our students more authentic learning experiences and more hands-on learning experiences.”
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.”
"Our space will be across content areas to give students a space to engage in project based learning, experiential learning, and solve problems in a real world fashion. Our space is going to be utilized all day and after school by a team of teachers who are already trying to give students these engaging learning opportunities."
-Principal John Contreraz