Northridge Elementary wins $15,000 Succeeds Prize

Northridge Elementary School's plans for an outdoor classroom for students and the community just got a $15,000 boost.

The Longmont school recently won the $15,000 Succeeds Prize for Excellence in STEM Education, with the school planning to use the money to design and build an outdoor space.

The $15,000 prize, presented by Ball Corporation, was awarded to Northridge as an "outstanding example of science, technology, engineering and math education."

"We help kids tap into their passions and discover new ones," said Northridge Principal Lorynda Sampson. "If they have a sense of fun while they're here, the learning will stick with them."

The Succeeds Prize — a partnership among 9NEWS, Colorado Succeeds and mindSpark Learning — recognizes and rewards Colorado public schools and educators. It also shares promising teaching practices statewide.

Sponsored by Colorado's business community, this year's Succeeds Prize awarded schools across six categories with a total of $150,000 in cash prizes.

Northridge Elementary was selected by a panel of STEM educators and industry professionals through a multi-step process that included a site visit.

The school was recognized for "providing students with meaningful STEM classes, opportunities to develop and apply 21st century skills, and exposure to STEM careers."

"A lot of it really is equity and closing achievement gaps," Sampson said.

Last school year, 87 percent of Northridge's students received federally subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty, and 63 percent were English-language learners.

Through business partnerships, Northridge uses speakers and field trips to introduce students to potential careers, Sampson said.

Fifth-graders also tour the University of Colorado, complete a career inventory, and research and present on their desired career at the school's annual STEM expo.

Jodi Garner, Northridge's STEM coordinator, co-plans and co-teaches STEM lessons with the school's teachers.

"I can help them create a design challenge based on what students are reading or how students can show what they're learning using an app," she said. "It really is about helping teachers fund the tools they need."

Sampson said the STEM curriculum also is teaching both students and teachers to be risk takers.

"A big ah-ha for our building is it's OK to fail," she said. "You can come back stronger."

Fifth-grader Stephanie Mathews found a passion for robotics through Northridge's afterschool robotics club.

"It's a fun experience," she said. "You get to work together and build friendships and skills. It's a little frustrating when you start, but then you learn more and you get into the flow."

Students also praised the school's genius hour, time set aside for students to work on passion projects.

"You can try researching things you want to learn about," said third-grader Stephen Mathews, Stephanie's sister.

Gio Rodriguez, a fourth-grader, used the genius hour last school year to study communication among Beta fish, learning that the males will die to protect the eggs after mating, even from their mate.

"If you don't get to pick what you're learning, it can be boring," he said.

Fourth-grader Jamie Carbaja, whose mom is a teacher at Northridge, said she likes working on projects in the school's innovation lab and completing design challenges. Her favorite challenge was making slime to raise money for a school garden to grow produce for the community.

"You challenge yourself to make your mind grow," she said.

The new outdoor learning space will be another design challenge.

Students started brainstorming ideas and building prototypes last school year. Now, they'll be asked to align their designs with school and district goals and prioritize features.

One of the school's goals is to create a space that also meets the needs of the surrounding neighborhood.

"A big problem for our families is finding affordable family activities," Sampson said. "We want a place for the community."