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Cañon City High School wins Succeeds Prize for excellence in STEM education

The school is giving their students a chance for an education that's out of this world.

CAÑON CITY, Colo. — The Pathways Program at Cañon City High School is designed to prepare students for college and the workforce. Students have the opportunity to earn early college credits, specialized certifications and explore career fields — all while pursuing their high school diploma.

“We have about 1,100 students here, and we try to basically serve all career needs preparing our students for their futures,” said Principal Bill Summers. “I think we’re going into a world where our students are really looking at the possibility of doing jobs that haven’t been invented yet."

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The school recently won the Succeeds Prize for excellence in STEM education. The award was created in collaboration with Colorado Succeeds, 9NEWS and mindSpark Learning. 

“This school is trying to make sure that students have an edge and doing ... [the] projects that are really going to shine for their futures,” Summers said. 

Credit: Byron Reed

One such projects is a program called SystemsGo of the Space Foundation. The four-year program was piloted by Boeing and NASA. It’s a rocketry and aeroscience curriculum that uses project-based learning to equip students with STEM skills. Students get hands-on experience, solving problems with projects inspired by the industry and internship opportunities with companies like Estes Rockets. Cañon City High School is in its second year of the project. 

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“It’s a high school-level science program, and literally it's rocket science,” Summers said. “We’re the first school (to use the program) outside of Houston and Seattle/Tacoma where NASA and Boeing are located.”

Credit: SystemsGo

“We have a series of rocket design courses,” said the school’s SystemsGo Director David Laughlin. “It’s not a kit that the students are putting together…it’s a complete total student fabrication development and then an ultimate launch of these rockets.”

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According to Laughlin, students will build and help launch three rockets through the course of the four years, including a transonic rocket that will break the sound barrier — and culminating with a launch sending a rocket into low orbit around the earth from a missile range in White Sands, New Mexico.

“The U.S. government demands that they track these rockets in case something goes wrong so they can take care of them,” Laughlin said.

Credit: Byron Reed

“It’s not something that a lot of people have on their resume,” said junior Kaedyn Dewitt. “I think you could definitely benefit from that and just having that type of experience before you get to college.”

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“The goal for our project is to get students interested in engineering,” said science teacher Matt Lopez. “I believe we are the first school in Colorado to bring this project to light, and we are one of the first rural schools districts to have this happen, so this is a big win for Cañon City overall.”

Credit: Byron Reed

“I think for a lot of these Cañon City students, the world can get pretty small,” Laughlin said. “They can feel like they don’t have the same opportunities that some in the major metropolitan area, and I didn’t want that for my students."

The Succeeds Prize is awarded to Colorado public schools and educators that show innovation in education.

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

A total of $150,000 was awarded with the hope the winners will share their best practices with other schools in Colorado.

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

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