Elizabeth Ayler was looking forward to incorporating movement into her learning day.
Ayler, an Altitude Elementary fourth-grader kicking off the 2018-19 school year on Aug. 13, stood in front of Infinity Middle School with her father, Scott Ayler, a few minutes before the first bell. Ayler and the rest of the Altitude students will kick off the year in the brand new Infinity building before moving to their own, separate school in October.
Ayler had heard all about all of the exciting features that the facility has to offer – interactive learning spaces, cutting-edge wireless technology, shiny classroom spaces and dazzling projection boards. She was happy that she'd have the freedom to explore all of these tools in a new way.
"I'm excited that I don't have to stay at one seat," she said, referring to a dynamic style of instruction that stresses problem-solving, collaboration and innovation.
Those themes were on the minds of the thousands of students, teachers, staff members and parents who kicked off the 2018-19 school year in the Cherry Creek School District on Monday. As always, the first day of school represented a new adventure for elementary, middle and high school students alike; it was a chance to chart a new academic course and make important progress.
"The first day is always exciting. Watching the students walk in with big smiles on their faces, there's excitement and opportunity that you can see in their eyes," said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried, as students dressed in their best first-day outfits passed through the Infinity doors toting backpacks. "It's something that we all look forward to as educators."
This year, however, carries a deeper kind of significance, Siegfried added. Standing in Infinity's front entrance, Siegfried spoke of a broader shift, a push toward the next iteration of excellence in classrooms across the district's 108 square miles.
"This is the first new building to open with innovation spaces within it and a new learning approach," Siegfried said, referencing the Cherry Creek 2021 initiative, a push to connect students with learning opportunities and options tailored to the demands of a new world. "You'll see within Infinity exceptional work really preparing students for their future in the 21st century, whether it's college or career or whatever they choose."
But Siegfried added that the stress on viable, applicable learning isn't limited to the district's newest middle school. From the new innovation spaces opening in elementary and middle schools across the district to challenging and real-world curriculum in every classroom, the 2018-19 year is kicking off with an emphasis on relevance and, as always, excellence.
"It's the same as what's going on for all of our students. We're renovating spaces, we're focusing on a project- and problem-based approach to education and instruction," Siegfried said. "It's the new wave in Cherry Creek Schools, and it's going to be topped off with the opening of our Cherry Creek Innovation Campus in 2019," he added, referencing another new facility where high school students will have the chance to earn industry certifications, credits towards associate's degrees and other useful, applicable qualifications.
That commitment to every student's unique path to their full potential was on display at Coyote Hills Elementary last week, when students kicked off the transitional calendar year. Jessica Custodio spoke about the school's attention to the individual academic strengths of her son.
"The staff at Coyote Hills have done so well in welcoming us," she said. "Through meet-and-greets and testing, they've already placed him in a tailored program. I'm excited – this is the first of many days at a great school."
That same spirit of promise and opportunity marked welcome ceremonies at dozens of buildings spread across eight municipalities in the Cherry Creek School District. Siegfried took time to personally greet students, taking up a charge he'd offered to new teachers during the annual orientation event earlier this month. Siegfried's daughter, now a college sophomore, entered the CCSD with a warm note of welcome and enthusiasm from her first teacher; he urged every teacher in the district to kick off the year with that same note of warmth.
The first day was a chance to fulfill that mission in his role as superintendent.
"There have been teachers in my children's lives who have made a difference, who have made them who they are," Siegfried said. "This morning, I get a chance to pass that on as well."
Sparking a student's curiosity, interest and sense of welcome is an essential first step in making innovative learning a reality, according to Infinity Middle School Principal Marquetta Thomas. The new school year is about creating a welcoming environment that builds a bridge to excellence, she added.
"When I think about innovation, the very first thing we have to plan is how we're going to engage our kids," Thomas said.