Learning to fail and make mistakes is not part of a school’s normal curriculum, but at Northridge Elementary, its how they find the right answer. 

“We believe students really should be communicating, collaborating and creating,” said the school’s STEM Coordinator Jodi Garner. “We don’t just want to give them the information that they’re learning, we want them to make their own meaning and do something with it that’s personal and important to them.”

Northridge is part of the St. Vrain School District. About 6 years ago, school staff wanted to do some problem-solving of their own.

Byron Reed

“We realized that we need to have kids school-ready, career-ready and life-ready,” said Principal Lorynda Sampson. “And that required us to make some changes so that our children are getting rigorous academics, feeling engaged and they’re prepared for a future.”

Byron Reed

Sampson said that’s when the district decided to start a STEM program, to give their students a chance to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The school’s STEM By Design model -- which includes integration, 21st-century skills, problem solving, personalized learning and forming connections -- is taught through projects like "Genius Hour."

“Genius Hour is all about making things, solving it and getting the right answer,” said 5th grader Jan Hernandez.  “We do design challenges, that’s way fun…it's so fun, you have your team and you have to win something and you get a prize, its game on!”

Byron Reed

“We believe students really should be communicating, collaborating and creating,” said STEM Coordinator Jodi Garner. “We don’t just want to give them the information that they’re learning, we want them to make their own meaning and do something with it that’s personal and important to them.”

“They’re applying their core academics to real-life problems,” said Sampson. “So it is taking that next step, because we are looking for that rigor and real-life experience for our kiddos.”

Those experiences are part of the reason why the school won the Succeeds Prize for Transformational Impact in middle school education. The award was created in collaboration with Colorado Succeeds, 9NEWS, mindSpark Learning and the state's last three governors.

Together, they recently presented The Succeeds Prize awards to Colorado public schools and educators that showed innovation in education.

A total of $150,000 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 recognize innovative public schools in Colorado.

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“This really does show that the work that we are doing for students everyday matters,” said Garner. “It’s impacting not only our students but students across our entire district.”

“It makes me feel good that they’re going to learn about our school and how they can make their schools like ours,” said fifth grader Yessenia Samaniego.

“We’re preparing the next generation and we can only do that if we all work together,” said Sampson.

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