Each school day at Escuela Valdez in Denver starts with a little communication.

“We greet our partner that’s next to us and also we do a quick activity,” fifth grader Abril Nunez-Favela said.

It’s an activity to help students get through their day.

“All of our instruction includes communication and collaboration with other students,” Katie Shively, Escuela Valdez’s Teacher Leader for Literacy said. “Building on each others strengths will then later apply as we’re figuring out a math problem.”

“Today we did what we are grateful for,” Nunez-Favela said.

Being grateful translates into helping her parents from Mexico do a little communicating of their own.

“It’s like our culture, [it’s] where my parents are from so we speak Spanish, also we speak English to practice more,” Nunez-Favela said.

Abril Nunez-Favela

She’s getting plenty of practice while enrolled at Valdez Elementary School. The dual-language school in the Denver Public School District has the goal of producing students who are both bi-cultural and bi-literate.

“We’re intentionally bringing students that bring Spanish from home together with students that speak English at home,” Shively said.

“When I got here, I didn’t really know Spanish and my second grade teacher helped me a lot,” Nunez-Favela said.

The school also provides help for teachers through a district-wide Teacher Leadership Program that pairs younger teachers with teacher leaders who coach and give input.

“Every teacher needs someone cheering for them” Shively said. “Supporting them, (and) answering any question even though they think it’s a stupid question.”

Valdez Elementary School in Denver.

The school goes even further saying making a connection with the parents is important to build a culture of leadership and support that goes beyond the classroom.

“As much parent involvement as we can get, the more the children achieve,” Shively said.

“We as parents are practicing what is being done in the classroom for our students,” Selena Silva, Family Liaison for Escuela Valdez said. “Our parents are invested in the education their children receive here and that’s key to our success.”

That success was recently highlighted when the school won The Succeeds Prize for Transformational Impact in elementary education.

“It was a combination of schools across the Front Range, schools in rural areas across the state,” Patrick Donavan, Colorado Succeeds Board Chairman said.

Valdez Elementary School in Denver.

The first-of-its-kind award was created in collaboration with Colorado Succeeds, 9NEWS, mindSpark Learning and the last three Governors.

Together they presented The Succeeds Prize to Colorado public schools and educators that showed transformational impact in education.

A total of $137,000 was awarded with the hope the winners will share their best practices with other schools in Colorado.

A data-driven process was used to identify and award innovative public schools in Colorado.

“We pulled a variety of information on achievement and growth and how the school performed with different types of demographics,” Donavan said.

The process makes it a little easier for students like Nunez-Favela to solve math problems in a school that turns a little communication into a lot.

“It’s interesting how the teacher does it, it’s fun,” Nunez-Favela said.

“We’re trying to change the world,” Shively said. “We’re trying to change it right here with kids coming together from different backgrounds, have skills to know how to do that, raise their academics so that they go out and they keep spreading that into the world.”

For more information about The Succeeds Prize, go to TheSucceedsPrize.org.