The Cherry Creek Innovation Campus: Real-World Skills Your Math Class Won't Teach You

By: Jori O'Grady

“When will we use this in the real world?”

Whether it’s synthetically dividing in Algebra II, memorizing a Shakespearean sonnet for English, balancing equations in Chemistry, or contextualizing the emergence of Buddhism in World History, students often lose their inclination to learn when bombarded with useless facts and equations. As we near the age of adulthood, it's only natural to question if it's really necessary to know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of a cell.

To illustrate, knowing the quadratic formula is required knowledge for ACT/SAT, but knowing basic financial management, how to cook, household maintenance, basic first aid, among others are required to live.

While emphasis on core classes is crucial to get into post secondary education, the American school system has failed to offer necessary skills for post secondary careers.

Ranking 6th lowest in the United States, only 77% of Colorado’s students graduated in 2014. However, the demand for college-educated adults in Colorado is the fifth-highest in the nation. Research from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce revealed that by 2020, nearly 75% of jobs in Colorado will require some education beyond high school. Yet, only 55% of Colorado adults have a degree or certificate. Consequently, Colorado businesses face an ongoing shortage of skilled workers and rising training costs in an already expensive state.

Ranking 10th lowest in the nation for public school budgets, Colorado’s budget for higher education has been rapidly dwindling. In effect, Colorado universities were forced to increase tuition.

“It is very expensive for a student that graduates in Colorado to stay in Colorado and go to school without some serious financial help,” said David Willman, president of the Cherry Creek School Board.

The traditional “American dream” education system to graduate high school, go to college, and get a job only works for 18-23% of students, so the Cherry Creek School Board turned to the students and the community for a solution.

“We started thinking about students and how we graduated. What did they do? What are they doing after graduation? Many times students would go to a two or four year community college, or 4 year college or university and they weren't finishing,” said Willman. “Maybe college was not for them. We had to ask ourselves--what else are we missing? What are we not doing for the students?”

“Maybe they just wanted to do more hands on activities and real work experience,” said Willman.

Partnering with Career Wise, and through C.T.E. (Career Technology & Education), Cherry Creek high schools had been able to offer access to concurrent enrollment and outside apprenticeships.

In 2016, the board went out and presented the importance of making the innovation campus to potential voters. A campus where the Cherry Creek District could offer hands on C.T.E. training.

The Cherry Creek Innovation Campus is a stand-alone college and career preparedness facility, accessible for almost all high school students in the Cherry Creek Schools. With a curriculum rooted in real-world skills and trade certifications, this facility will offer students a new kind of bridge to college and viable careers.

Located in the heart of Dove Valley, the C.C.I.C. is a 117,000 square-foot building seated on 40 acres. The campus will be able to offer opertuntial pathways in Advanced Manufacturing, Business Services, Hospitality and Tourism, Health and Wellness, Infrastructure Engineering (Building Trades) I.T. and S.T.E.A.M., and Automotive and Aviation Transportation.

According to the Principal of C.C.I.C. Mark Morgan The Cherry Creek Innovation Campus is geared toward students who…

    1. Want to go to college.
    2. Want to go right into the workforce or military after high school.
    3. Are unsure of what they want to do after high school.
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“Our goal is to bring a truly unique, work-based learning experience for students seeking a better understanding of themselves as they prepare for life after high school,” said Morgan.

The visionary process for the Innovation Campus aimed to offer preparation for both postsecondary education and postsecondary careers.

“We didn't have hose options for technical arts, computer science, craftsmanship, electrician training, or any type of manufacturing trade. We had to send students to other places, so a part of the vision was to be able to do this in our own district,” said Willman.

The board’s success led them to today. On November 29th, construction crews, the Cherry Creek School Board, the student advisory board, future staff, and everyone else involved in the construction and visionary for the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus gathered around to sign the final beam to be added in the building.

“The beam is going up and that's going to be here now forever and we literally have an impact,” said Grandview senior, Natalie Yao, who is part of the student advisory board for C.C.I.C.

The student advisory board is a group of students across the district that had been able to partake in the discussion and the designing of the campus.

“We have kids [on the board] that aspire to be engineers and have they have been able to put input. The board makes sure the building is what kids will think would be best,” said Yao.

For the first time the district will offer hands on learning and work experience opportunities. And it’s focus is on students, not on standardized tests and formulaic essays.

“It allows the kids that what to have that opportunity for something very specific, whether it's the business pathway or health pathways," said Willman. “They know that they might not be going to college right away, but they want to explore, they want to dream, and they want to being able to take those options.”

Acknowledging the faults in the American school system, the campus aimed to prepare students for the workforce instead of college.

“We are doing this whole combined education. We’re giving kids the skills and to help develop and master and get them prepared for not only the workforce but prepping them to be a lifelong learner,” said Willman.

“If you have the skills, then you are ready to be successful,” said Willman.

High schools will continue to host a wide range of C.T.E. programs, but this new facility will enhance current programing and offer more advanced and sophisticated educational opportunities.

The Cherry Creek Innovation Campus is projected to open in August 2019 to juniors and seniors in the district. They will offer bus transportation from each high school to the campus.

Interested in Attending the C.C.I.C.?

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