Last October, two Lakewood-based students each reached out to the school district with plans to get their peers involved in addressing climate change. At Lakewood High School, freshman Leigh Schmidt …
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Last October, two Lakewood-based students each reached out to the school district with plans to get their peers involved in addressing climate change.
At Lakewood High School, freshman Leigh Schmidt was working to build a social media presence for Project 5 Billion, an account asking followers to make lifestyle changes for the good of the environment.
At Hutchinson Elementary, Traeger Jones and his father, Eric, envisioned a Climate Action Club, through which the school’s third, fourth and fifth graders could “share how we feel about the climate and go outside and enjoy,” said Jones, a fourth-grader.
With finances from the district’s Innovation Acceleration Fund, both students will put their ideas into action. For the first time this year, students could apply to be a recipient of the fund, which was created by Jeffco Public Schools in 2017.
Through the program, a total of about $1 million was awarded to 26 ideas brainstormed by local teachers and students. The district encouraged applicants to pitch ideas that transformed learning, tackling old concepts in an innovative way.
Applicants could propose a small idea with a budget of $5,000 or less; a medium idea with a $5,000 to $50,000 budget; or a large idea with a budget greater than $50,000. Jeffco received 76 applications, with 18 of them from students.
More than 2,100 Jeffco Schools community members voted online to determine the winners.
“We are thrilled and inspired by the innovative ideas to support student learning experiences,” said Tom McDermott, the district’s chief strategy officer. “We are even more excited about the impact of this year’s recipients because the ideas come from the students themselves, or reflect their voice and the voice of educators.”
Claire Odorico, teacher sponsor for Jones’s project, praised the project for its uniqueness. Having worked in multiple school districts, she said she has never seen a district put on a similar funding initiative for students.
The fund allows “kids to learn in an authentic way and invests in projects designed to make the community better,” she said.
Winning ideas encompassed solutions to a variety of daily challenges, including climate change, outdated school equipment and a need to revitalize physical education curriculum.
“If someone didn’t do this hard work of creating the innovation grant, nothing would have changed. I would never have gotten this money any other way,” said Judy Sims, digital teacher librarian at Pomona High School. Her idea saw Pomona receive funding to update some of the school’s library furniture, which dates back to 1973.
Included among the updates were casters and brackets for tables so students can more easily work together.
“Kids’ work isn’t very individual anymore; they tend to be working in groups,” Sims said. “And furniture is so expensive that we just could not afford to buy it. The money is not enough to replace everything, but it’s enough to give us ideas of how we can make the 1973 furniture work.”
Meanwhile, at Arvada High School, finding innovative solutions has come in the form of DrumFIT, a workout program to get students active in a new way.
The school has used its grant money to purchase 45 DrumFIT yoga balls and drumsticks, as well as subscriptions to workout videos, which instruct students how to use the equipment to complete rhythm-based workouts.
PE teacher Jamie Thorson hopes DrumFIT will offer an alternative to classic workouts, which do not always engage students or offer the same social benefits as the new workout, she said.
“It’s so fast-moving, they can’t focus on anything else, and it’s really hard to be doing it and not be smiling,” she said.
Assistant principal Jeremy Jensen added that the school intends to use the equipment not only for PE classes, but also for any class, as students often need a break throughout the school’s 90-minute class periods.
In Lakewood, the students raising climate change awareness also already have plans for their new resources.
Schmidt and her staff sponsor, Creighton Middle School teacher Jenny Boehlke, hope to increase their project’s social media presence. They have budgeted to spend the grant on new technology, such as graphic design programs, to help them better present the project.
Project 5 Billion has more than a collective 200 followers through its Facebook and Twitter handles — @p5billion — and its Instagram account, @project5billion.
Many of those followers live in the Lakewood and Jefferson County areas, with Schmidt’s classmates often telling her they are following the page, she said.
“They’ll tell me they’re doing the challenges and how it’s going,” she said.
The goal is to build an even stronger presence in the school district.
“The end result is that we want a ripple effect” across the world, Boehlke said.
Schmidt added they plan to take groups of students from Lakewood High School and other Jeffco schools to downtown rallies and events related to climate change.
Jones is also doing what he can at Hutchinson Elementary, preparing to launch the club with the new funds, which will go toward building emergency preparedness kits for participants — including food, water and extra clothing. Participants will learn how to help the climate and what to do in a climate-related emergency.
“It’s going to help people understand how we need to help the Earth,” Traeger Jones said.
His father will help oversee the club, but “it’s student-driven,” he said. “This is a significant investment by the district into its students.”
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