A Strong Competitive Advantage

Three Skyline students at the Colorado state Capitol building

“Good afternoon, Mr. Chairperson and distinguished members of the committee. My name is Katelyn Wojniak and I am a senior at Skyline High School in the St. Vrain Valley School District.”

This was the opening scene as Katelyn and two fellow students from St. Vrain Valley Schools sat alongside Colorado Senate President, Kevin Grantham (R-Cañon City), to testify to the Colorado House Education Committee in support of House Bill 17-1184, Modern Technology Education In Public Schools.

“I am excited to be here today to share my story with computer science. I’m not going to lie, I initially joined the STEM Academy at Skyline High School because every student gets their own laptop during the school year. The one-to-one program kind of opened the door to the variety of classes that I would take during my high school experience that I wouldn’t have taken otherwise,” Wojniak continued. “It wasn’t until I decided to apply for a job at the Innovation Center and take an elective class over the summer to get my Apple Certification that I realized an education in computer science doesn’t only look impressive on a transcript but it is valuable in real life.”

For Katelyn, now a freshman at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her fellow testifiers, Skyline junior, Michelle Tran, and Skyline sophomore, Adriana Guzman, the experience of participating in the legislative process was one of many opportunities they have had as members of the St. Vrain Valley community to make deep connections between classroom learning and the real world. On that day last spring, it was engaging in the civic process by sharing their story to a room full of elected officials and education leaders. On other days, it has been producing a live radio show, repairing Apple devices for teachers, building websites for industry clients or engineering and 3D printing biomedical devices.

Their success through these opportunities are part of a districtwide drive that began almost a decade ago to move St. Vrain Valley Schools to the forefront of developing and delivering a rigorous 21st-century education that will empower students and prepare them for the complex, globalized economy.

Through this work, St. Vrain has launched 70 high-quality instructional focus programs across the district, among which includes: a Medical and BioScience Academy and High School of Business Program at Longmont High; an Engineering and Aerospace Academy at Erie High; a Leadership Academy at Silver Creek High; an Energy Academy at Mead High; a Biomedical Engineering Program at Frederick High; and a Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Skyline High, among many other programs across the district.

Josie Lamp, a 2014 graduate of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Academy at Skyline High, was a member of those early classes of students to benefit from St. Vrain’s rigorous educational programming that gives choice in finding a learning community that supports a student’s goals and interests. Lamp’s empowered educational choices included working at the Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools, a nationally recognized program that directly connects students with partners in technology, robotics, media and other industries for mentorship and paid practical experience, while also encouraging them to pursue their own ideas and inventions.

“I feel like I had a much better caliber of education and technical skills coming into college,” said Lamp, now a senior biomedical informatics major at Arizona State University. “I remember freshman year very distinctly. A lot of my classmates were really struggling, especially in my computer science and technical classes, but because I had experience through St. Vrain’s Innovation Center, and other tech electives and computer science curriculum at Skyline, I could jump right in and had no problems adjusting. I got asked all the time, ‘How come you are so good?’ and I could say it was because I had a phenomenal high school education.”

For future St. Vrain Valley students, the resources and opportunities are continuing to advance. Through community support in the 2016 bond, St. Vrain is expanding the Innovation Center through the construction of a 50,000 square foot facility that will be open to every student in the district.

Included in the building plan is classroom space for the district’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH program. P-TECH is a new type of school that brings together the best elements of high school, college and the professional world. Through the P-TECH model, students earn their high school diploma alongside a no-cost Associate degree, and receive industry mentoring to ensure they are first in line for jobs after graduation. St. Vrain launched its first P-TECH school in computer information systems in 2016 at Skyline High School with IBM as the industry partner. The district is looking to expand the program to more high schools and industries in future years with the next program in the early planning stages at Frederick High School in biomedical engineering.

One way that St. Vrain Valley Schools helps students and families navigate the spectrum of choices and high-quality programs in the district is through the development of an Individual Career and Academic Plan, or ICAP, beginning in fifth grade.

“The whole idea behind the ICAP is ‘What are you going to do in high school? What are you going to do in your life?’ It is really involved in every aspect of picking classes and activities that will help them follow their passions and meet their education and career goals,” said Louise March, P-TECH and ICAP Counselor at Skyline High. “I believe this is so important because if they are really doing things that they love, then things will fall in place to support their overall success.”

Cultivating inquiry and a drive for success through world-class experiential learning and choice is one way that St. Vrain Valley Schools gives students a competitive advantage that will empower their success in the future. Students today are not only focused on advancing their academic goals but also on building a better future for those who will follow in their footsteps.

For Katelyn, Adrianna and Michelle, their support of House Bill 17-1184 led to Governor Hickenlooper signing it into law in April of this year and will ensure the development of resources and standards to support high-quality computer science curriculum across the state.

Ending her testimony, Wojniak stated, “If we can learn and continue to develop technology, then the learning opportunities are unlimited. The end goal in mind should always be to further education for everyone.”