A Closer Look at The Succeeds Prize Finalists Through a Policy Lens
The policy agenda for Colorado Succeeds has been inspired and informed by the innovation that we have seen in schools and districts across Colorado. Preparing students for an uncertain future, filled with jobs that have not been invented yet, requires a keen sense of ingenuity. The Succeeds Prize is an annual event that recognizes and celebrates educators and school leaders that demonstrate that ingenuity. They continue to push the education system to what it must become – agile.
As business leaders recognize their role in providing deeper support for this transformation of the education system to occur, Colorado Succeeds seeks to bring key stakeholders together and use policy to break down barriers to innovation. Through The Succeeds Prize finalists and working with our members, we’ve identified 5 themes that we keep in mind to align with policy conditions to support more agile learners, educators, and systems.
Learning is happening outside the classroom – allowing students to develop new skills, uncover their passions, and explore career paths. It is important that we ensure these experiential learning opportunities are not only happening, but that they are considered just as valuable as the time students spend in the classroom. Through NoCo Inspire in the Poudre School District for example, a team of educators work tirelessly to foster partnerships with local businesses – leveraging a unique online platform – in order to provide work-based learning opportunities for students throughout the district and one day throughout northern Colorado.
One effort to expand these efforts statewide is the High School Innovative Learning Pilot. For selected districts, this new program would eliminate seat-time requirements, and allow students participating in high-quality experiential learning to be counted as full-time students. Another effort recognizing learning beyond the classroom is the Career Development Incentive Program, where districts or schools can receive up to $1,000 for each student that completes an internship, apprenticeship, or AP courses, or earns a qualified industry credential.
Encouraging learning through curiosity doesn’t stop in pre-school. With more and more schools recognizing that students learn best by doing, a focus on capstones and project-based learning that provide students the opportunity to explore passions and demonstrate learning through cross-content, thematic projects are more prevalent than ever. In the Roaring Fork School District, for example, all seniors are required to identify something that is personally meaningful to them, and develop a capstone project that serves as a culmination of their learning and a reflection of who they have become during their time in K-12 education.
As part of the state’s new graduation guidelines, districts will be able to further leverage capstones and competency-based demonstrations of learning as a measure of students’ readiness to graduate. Another area where learning through curiosity and hands-on opportunities takes place is in our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs across the state.
Individualizing a student’s education is critical to their growth and development. At the Academy of Advanced Learning, educators work closely with students to help learners understand exactly where they are, and what they need to accomplish to master the content. At La Veta High School, students leverage their ICAP (Individual Career and Academic Plan) as a map toward uncovering passions and opportunities available to them after high school. With so much cost and uncertainty awaiting learners after their time in the K-12 system, individualizing students’ experiences like these schools have is as critical as ever. That is why we supported legislative efforts to modernize and expand concurrent enrollment opportunities as well as advocating for the expansion of P-TECH programs that allow students to earn their high school diploma, receive mentorship and work-based learning opportunities, while also earning an associate’s degree during their time in high school.
Teachers and principals are the unit of change. Period. We believe that developing agile learners requires agile educators who are growing and adapting to the new demands of the workforce alongside their students. One of the middle school finalists, McAuliffe International, has a staffing model that leverages their strongest, most experienced teachers to support the rest of the staff in their growth and development and to ensure educators are focused on being their best in the classroom for students.
Knowing how critical the role of a teacher is on a student’s growth and development, we have supported several pieces of legislation focused on educators. This includes additional funding to expand the number of educators who can teach postsecondary-level courses in high school by increasing funding and loan forgiveness for educators earning a master’s degree in key content areas. We also supported the creation of new programs that provide additional funding for teachers to earn the necessary credentials to teach Computer Science courses to students. The more we can empower our educators with the experiences and training they need to stay up to date with trends in key industries, the better off our students will be.
Technology-enabled learning is no longer a “nice to have”, but a necessity. As technology becomes more and more embedded in everything we do, we must treat it as something all learners understand deeply, rather than the typing and “technology” classes of previous generations. As a finalist, Warren Tech students are learning the ins and outs of computer science and cybersecurity, not only grasping the necessary coding and software skills, but also learning how the hardware works – taking apart and rebuilding computers and servers to deeply understand the technology that drives our world.
Colorado Succeeds is proud to have supported increased funding to support districts in launching or expanding computer science programs for students, as well as legislation that required the state to develop an open-source computer science resource bank available to educators, students, and families. To further incentivize schools and educators to provide students with a quality STEM education, we also successfully advocated for the implementation of a STEM-endorsed diploma with partners that recognizes students who have demonstrated mastery in STEM subjects.