Leaders of the Future

  • Story and Photos by: Kerri McDermid

Across all schools in the St. Vrain Valley, our students are advancing excellence and will be the future leaders who will change our world. We are St. Vrain Valley Schools. We are the future of America. We are public education proud. #SoundOn #StVrainStorm

Schools today are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist.

As we imagine possibilities for careers of the future – perhaps a lunar horticulturist, air traffic crossing guard, or telesurgeon – our classrooms and learning opportunities must provide foundational skills that will empower student success, regardless of what industry (or planet) they end up in.

A decade ago, St. Vrain Valley Schools began a transformation to become a system that would not only provide students with a high-quality education but would also spark their interests and empower success beyond the classroom walls. Early conversations with the business community, students, teachers, parents, elected officials, and others were the catalyst to developing a suite of instructional focus programs, designed to give choice across the district and propel the development of skills essential to the future.

In a recent survey of 350 executives across eight industries, the World Economic Forum identified skills that would be most in demand by 2020. Cognitive flexibility, creativity, service orientation, negotiation, and complex problem solving were key skill areas that would be most important and influential.

Anticipating these trends years ago, St. Vrain Valley Schools cultivated a portfolio of 70 instructional focus programs across the district that not only emphasize focused programming within high-interest growth industries – such as Medical and BioScience, Business, Aerospace and Engineering, Energy, Biomedical Sciences, STEM, and Visual and Performing Arts – but also build strong connections to the skills that will be needed for any job: existing now or just in our own imaginations.

At Silver Creek High School, the approach to 21st-century skill development goes a step deeper through student opportunities within their Leadership Academy. The Silver Creek Leadership Academy (SCLA) was founded in 2009 to provide a deliberate and purposeful way to connect classroom learning to real-life skills that are needed regardless of profession. All schools across St. Vrain emphasize leadership development, communication, teamwork, and collaboration. Students in SCLA take this even further by implementing community-based capstone projects that showcase their leadership skills and have a significant impact on the community.

“Teaching leadership is one of the best investments of our time and energy that we can do with our kids, as the future is truly in our schools right now.”

Carrie Adams, Program Director, Silver Creek Leadership Academy

Breaking Down Barriers

“We wanted to develop a way for students to have a real sense of responsibility and how they fit in their community, their country, and their world,” said Carrie Adams, Program Director for the Silver Creek Leadership Academy. “Recognizing how important it is for our students to grow and be challenged, we design activities and experiences that help our students persevere through struggles, resolve them within the confines of our supportive program, and ultimately find success.”

Curriculum in the program includes workshops on running successful meetings, conflict resolution and conflict management, design thinking, creating professional social media, building high performing teams, followership, cultural intelligence, respectful partnerships, developing a growth mindset, networking, and business ethics. Student outcomes focus on what the program refers to as the ‘BIG 6’: respect, teamwork, critical and creative thinking, vision, communication, and ethics.

By May 2019, the program is anticipated to have graduated over 200 students, with hundreds more participating in SCLA coursework throughout their four years at the school. Past student capstone projects have included everything from running Girls STEM Camps for elementary and middle school students, to hosting golf tournaments to raise funds for local nonprofits, to developing apps that support medical patients with a concussion. The experiences and opportunities to collaborate and lead such significant projects across the community are having a tremendous impact on students’ success after high school.

Emma Pearson, 2018 SCLA graduate, shares how the opportunities she has received through the program have had a lasting impact. “I am currently in the Leeds Scholars Program, which is a prestigious group of students within the Leeds Business School at the University of Colorado Boulder. The acceptance into the program was only about seven percent, and I know I would not have been accepted had it not been for my experiences at Silver Creek High School. My involvement in SCLA, combined with my capstone project, are the main reasons why I was given these opportunities.”

Leadership Begins in Preschool

Teachers do not wait until high school to begin cultivating critical thinking, leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills. Across St. Vrain, cultivating student agency begins in preschool.

As young students at Blue Mountain look forward to their future walking the halls of Silver Creek High School, connections to leadership curriculum and skill development are already integrated across every classroom in the feeder. Students have opportunities to hone and flex their leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills, whether it is through design challenges, coding, Genius Hour projects, student council, or National Elementary Honor Society.

“While determining the focus of our school, we asked ourselves what skills our students would need in order to be successful in life. It did not take us long to agree that our students need to be able to think critically for themselves, to confidently face problems and work towards finding solutions, and to have the curiosity and motivation to take ownership of their learning. Thus, the inquiry part of our focus was born,” shared JoLene Lewis, Third Grade Teacher at Blue Mountain Elementary. “By having our students ask their own questions and work toward finding answers, we are laying the foundation for Altona and Silver Creek to create our community’s future leaders.”

As fast as technology and our greater world are evolving, no one knows with certainty what the future has in store for the approximately 33,000 students who are enrolled in St. Vrain. What is known, is that St. Vrain students are graduating more prepared than ever for success wherever their path may take them.

“St. Vrain Valley Schools is always looking to stay ahead of trends and remain current in what is happening, in education, in business, in politics, and in the nonprofit world,” said Adams at Silver Creek. “Teaching leadership is one of the best investments of our time and energy that we can do with our kids, as the future is truly in our schools right now.”

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ST. VRAINNOVATION was produced in-house by the St. Vrain Department of Communications.
ST. VRAINNOVATION and other district initiatives are generously supported by these and many other community sponsors.

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