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Jeffco Schools selects 10 innovations to fund

This is the first year of the innovation acceleration grant

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Tinker labs, makerspaces, career exploration and wellness rooms are just some of the innovations being funded by the first year of the Jefferson County Public School’s Innovation Acceleration Fund.

“Being one of the first recipients of this funding means so much to Stott,” said Caryn McCormick, who submitted an application for Stott Elementary’s Tinker Lab. “It is validation of the work we started years ago and lets us know that we are on the right track for our students. This innovation was organized and led entirely by a team of teachers. We are a small school tucked away in a little corner of Arvada. We always say that Stott is a `hidden gem.’ It’s nice to be recognized for the great work that the teachers do day in and day out.”

The Tinker Lab at Stott, focused on STEM applications is one of 10 projects funded in this first-year grant

The other nine projects funded this year are a STEAM makerspace at Golden High; academy programs for the Green Mountain articulation area; career explore programs at Dakota Ridge High and Wheat Ridge High; an upgrade to the adapted daily living program at Fletcher Miller Special School; a mechanical engineering and robotic program at VanArsdale Elementary; a wellness and emotional health initiative at North Arvada Middle; a safe school environments initiative for all schools through Jeffco security; school-based health centers through Jeffco health services; and a GED/post secondary accelerator program at all high schools.

In January, the Board of Education for Jeffco schools approved $1 million for a new innovation grant program. The idea was proposed because the Jeffco Generations vision launched in October 2017 by Superintendent Jason Glass encourages entrepreneurial efforts as a way to “keep the main thing, the main thing,” — learning. The fund offers an incentive for staff to look for innovative ways to improve learning, conditions for learning, and readiness for learning for Jeffco students and encourages the organizational value of “entrepreneurial spirit.”

All employees had the opportunity to apply for the grants and were encouraged to partner with other organizations, such as postsecondary institutions, nonprofit organizations, local businesses and community-based agencies to strengthen ideas and offer authentic learning experiences.

Over 100 applications were submitted, with requests totalling $9.3 million. That was narrowed to 51 applications, which scored above a 24 on the rubric, and were invited to pitch their ideas in round two. The total monetary ask of those invited to pitch was $6.2 million. The applications were again scored and the top 10 projects were funded.

“One of the biggest distinguishers in those that were funded were that they were connected to a larger effort or partnership,” said Tom McDermott, special assistant to the superintendent for Jeffco schools and the facilitator of the innovation fund application process. “Applications that stood out to the committee were those that had a lot of thought and work put into it and they just needed funding to help it get off the ground.”

One of those partnership projects is through the districts health services.

Jeffco currently has two school-based health centers — one at Stein Elementary and another at Alameda Junior/Senior High. The centers serve as primary care clinics that reside inside the school and partner with Metro Community Provider Network, a federal qualified health center, to provide medical care for students.

About a year ago, the district health services division decided they needed more school-based health centers to provide easy access to students for immunizations, and quicker management of chronic illness such as type 1 diabetes, asthma and allergies.

The centers also provide mental health.

“The idea is that we know when students leave from for doctor’s appointment, they usually don’t come back to school,” said Julie Wilken, director of health services for Jeffco schools.

The funds from the innovation grant will go toward creating two more school-based clinics at Arvada High and Golden High.

“We just want to emphasis the fact that health is a large component in the readiness for learning,” Wilken said. “We want kids to be at optimal health to access education and be in their seats ready to learn.”

One aspect of this application that makes it innovation is coupling it with another grant through Telehealth, which would provide equipment for additional schools to dial in to health providers at the school-based clinics through video conference to asses student health needs.

Another health initiative is happening at North Arvada Middle School through its innovation project of creating a wellness room for students.

“Our overarching vision is to create a more empathic approach to teaching and learning,” said Amanda Summers, seventh grade assistant principal at North Arvada Middle.

This will be done through training for staff focused on social thinking and empathy to improve climates for students and by providing support materials for students such as fidgets, noise cancelling headphones, and therapy balls, all of which allow students to engage in movement and discharge energy while remaining in classrooms to participate in learning opportunities.

The school will also create a low-stimuli room where students can calm down when feeling anxious, sad or overwhelmed. It will be staffed by counselors and administrators to walk kids though steps to calm down.

“The intention is to always get kids back in a classroom to learn,” Summers said, adding that the tools will be open to all students at the school.

The long-term goal is to spread what they learn to other schools in the district and increase mental health an education readiness throughout Jeffco.

“I’m really proud of the projects that were funded,” McDermott said. “We’re excited about them and I think they reflect the diversity of applications received.”

This year being a pilot year, McDermott said they learned a lot about the process and what to do differently moving forward.

“We are also aware that less than 10 percent of the ideas brought to us got funding,” McDermott added. “We’re thinking about a way to facilitate opportunity to pursue great ideas that unfortunately were not able to be funded through these grants.”

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