Next-Gen Career Prep at St. Vrain Innovation Center

From launching a drone fleet to fighting cybercrime, from robotics to biotechnology, from engineering to entrepreneurship, the Innovation Center (@ICSVVSD) serves more than thousands of high school students in the St Vrain Valley School District (@SVVSD).

Thirty miles north of Denver, the Innovation Center serves students, PK-14, from all 60 schools in Longmont and surrounding communities. In its second year of operation, the $20 million career center offers 50,000 square foot of specialized learning programs prioritized by local, national, and global business and corporate partners.

Students take one or more classes at the Innovation Center and retain enrollment at their home high school. Buses run all day to extend access and options for St. Vrain students.

The Innovation Center (IC) is part of what superintendent Don Haddad calls “a PK-14 system” that prepares all students for success.

Preparation for High Tech Jobs

A computer lab helps students become an Apple Certified Technician that allows them to work in an Apple Store when they go to college. Programs for PC certifications are also available.

A high-tech audio and video studio allow students to record professional video (and gain a TriCaster certification). Students can also learn the basics of augmented and virtual reality.

There is a makerspace, an introduction to STEM and, for more advanced students and Introduction to Biotechnology.

Artificial intelligence and Cybersecurity: Axel Reitzig and a team of faculty, students, and business mentors are developing an AI/Cybersecurity Hub. During the first year, they are exploring ways of offering AI/CS to students.

“We are starting primarily with our after-school project teams. Students on these teams will help us to develop curriculum that we can then use next year in classes, both at the IC and in a few early adopter schools,” said Reitzig. “Longer term, the plan is to have AI be something addressed broadly across the district.”

Aeronautics: Want to build a drone? How about a lab with its own runway next to a farm where you can practice?

Jake Marshall, who leads the aerospace and aeronautics program at IC, said, “Students will be able to obtain a professional drone pilot license from the FAA”.

Last year, students built military-grade drones for several companies, took aerial photographs for real estate companies, tested drone delivery systems, and designed a race track for a drone racing company.

For students with bigger aspirations, they can gain a pilot’s license through Aims Community College and fly out of the Ft. Collins airport.

Entrepreneurship. Jeffrey Lund (below) teaches entrepreneurship at IC. And, in one of the many reciprocal relationships, he teaches entrepreneurial operations at Front Range Community College. Interns from the University of Colorado, who are working on their own big ideas, help Lund teach the course.

“We change every kid that comes through here and change the world,” said Lund.

Robotics: Across St. Vrain and within the Innovation Center, robotics is a powerful strategy to engage students of all ages in problem-based, technology-enabled learning. The district has adopted a multi-pronged robotics approach in an effort to simultaneously guarantee equitable access, spur interest among all students, and build skills necessary for success in competitions.

Since the program began several years ago, it has ballooned to more than 155 teams and 700 students. Numerous teams have ascended to the podium at local, state, national, and international competitions. Partners like the Denver Zoo provide Innovation Center students with opportunities to design and engineer aquatic robots for conservation projects in Peru. At the Innovation Center, students not only lead robotics programs across the district for younger students but also train teachers on emerging educational technology platforms.

The Innovation Center serves not only as a center for innovation in St. Vrain but also as a diffuser across its schools. What visitors see at the Innovation Center is a concentrated version of what is happening across all St. Vrain schools – ensuring that every student across this large Colorado district has a strong competitive advantage when they graduate.

Patty Quinones, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation, wants more students to have IC-like learning experiences. One approach is a mobile version of the center–a big high tech RV sponsored by business partners that can reach rural schools.

“Innovation is the competitive advantage,” said Quinones. “It’s the diploma plus.”

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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