Longmont Past, Present, Future: Innovative partnership offers timeless connections for learning and a better world

Imagine being able to talk with Longmont’s earliest settlers, absorb their wisdom, and learn from their challenges. Though portals to the past may not yet be a reality, St. Vrain Valley third graders are embracing the chance to authentically connect with their community’s history. The experience comes hand-in-hand with an opportunity to examine and learn from community members’ contemporary experience and collaboratively envision progress toward achieving goals through the design-thinking process. All this is thanks to a unique and dynamic partnership between the Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools and the Longmont Museum called Longmont Past, Present, Future.

At its most basic level, Longmont Past, Present, Future is a field trip for third graders that delivers standards-based design-thinking experiences through museum exhibits and recorded videos. The half-day experience, piloted with students from Timberline PK-8 and Alpine Elementary this spring, is split equally between the Longmont Museum and the Innovation Center. Both portions of the program provide distinct, hands-on experience and offer thought-provoking overlap and connections. “The day consists of two field trips that would be great as a stand-alone time,” says Kristen Brohm, SVVSD STEM Coordinator. “Whether students access the museum or the Innovation Center first, the relevance between the past and today is striking. The program provides a base for seeing how conflicts, issues, and goals are mirrored between past and present, and around the world.”

At the Longmont Museum, students handle artifacts, listen to historians, and dig into exhibits. At the Innovation Center, they hear from current community members via videos prepared specifically for the program about present challenges. They then have the opportunity to engage in a school, city, or neighborhood-related design challenge of their choosing. Students are tasked with developing an understanding of the issue and empathy for the user, coming up with a product, process, or experience to address the challenge, and then using upcycled craft materials to create a prototype for their solution. The solutions they devise are sent back to the community mentors whose videos introduced the issues and efforts to resolve them. “This project is about empowering and engaging kids,” says Jenn Crill, STEM Coordinator at Timberline PK-8. “We want kids to know they can make a difference right now, and that to do that, you have to be an active citizen, connecting with other people, and hearing different perspectives.”

The seed for Longmont Past, Present, Future was first sown last spring, when Brohm began wondering about possibilities for collaboration between the Innovation Center and the museum, given they are just down the street from one another. She connected with Ann Macca, Curator of Education at Longmont Museum, and things, as the two describe, just exploded. “I’ve been at the Longmont Museum for six years doing field trips and it’s rare that you find someone who has the same goals you can work closely on together,” Macca says. “This program is so beneficial to everyone – students, teachers, the museum, our volunteers, and the whole community.”

Longmont Past, Present, Future is already making a broad impact. “So many times, field trips are one-and-done, a break from learning,” Crill says. “This one is a catalyst for learning. It drives momentum.” Next year, Crill says they are hoping to facilitate more than ten field trips, serving about one-third of district elementary schools. In addition to expanding the number of students reached, the planning team intends to broaden to different focus areas. This year’s key focus was geography, but depending on teachers’ curriculum needs, the program can be structured around civics, history, social studies, or economics.

Longmont Past, Present, Future doesn’t just encourage design-thinking and community building, it models it. From the start, support has been widespread and enthusiasm contagious. “This program is for third graders, but its impact engages the whole community,” Brohm says. “We are encouraging creative thinking and teaching students that you don’t have to be an adult to solve problems. We know that you have ideas and as a community, we value those ideas”