CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. — Though Brian Inman's classroom looks like a bike shop, the teacher at Clear Creek High School believes it's changing the future of school.
"A lot of these kids have never turned a wrench before," Inman said.
The program is called Project Bike Tech and students are learning mechanical skills that Inman believes are invaluable.
"College might be something that they do in the long run, but this gives them an opportunity to explore something else and go, 'Oh, maybe I want to take a different track,' " Inman said.
Students can also explore a different trail.
"You can just split off the trail right up there, like the main one, and hit these, and you can just get back on the trail," said junior Nick Shmalz, pointing out the Gold Rush Trail that's adjacent to the high school property.
He and other students learned in class how to build and maintain hiking and biking trails, while also constructing mountain bike jumps.
"On that side of the trail where it goes over there, I built like this whole side with my crew," Nick said.
Ben Shay is with a group called Mountain Youth Network and teaches students like Nick about the proper way to design turns and berms.
"Just to develop a trail and build a corner right, you've got to really understand the physics and the math of how somebody would travel through here," Shay said. "It's a lot of learn-as-you-go and teach. I think the valuable part of Project Bike Tech is problem-solving."
Nick said this type of learning opportunity is unique.
"Elementary, you know, you wouldn't do this, or middle school, and before this class was here, you didn't really do this ever. So I think it's awesome," Nick said.
The Clear Creek School District is along Interstate 70 in the mountains west of Denver. Superintendent Karen Quanbeck said she wants to cater to students' interests.
"We believe that learning is done best when kids are engaged, when kids find interesting learning when it's connected to their community," Quanbeck said.
Clear Creek High School offers classes in areas including construction, bike tech and trail building, in addition to reading, math and science.
"Students seem to respond to the hands-on stuff a whole lot better than sitting and taking notes," said teacher Ryan Wood.
Wood is an art teacher who wanted to expand his offerings with a class called Home Maintenance to give students a different experience.
"They pick up skills that a drywaller, maybe somebody would want to be a drywaller or learn how to frame a house, or electricians," Wood said. "You know, so they get a taste of those while they’re in high school."
Quanbeck said she wants to create a workforce for local tourism businesses.
"Whether it's biking, hiking, rafting, retail, hospitality, and so yeah, the connections are important," Quanbeck said.
Shay said these are connections that can pay off for generations.
"What this offers is an ability for students to stay in the county as they grow up and get into jobs or careers that they might not have thought were possible before, but exist here because of recreation and tourism and things like that," Shay said.
That's why Clear Creek was recognized with The Succeeds Prize for Career Exploration and Pathways.
9News partners with Colorado Succeeds, a group created by members of the business community. The Succeeds Prize comes with a $15,000 investment and year-long support to share the stories of the winners with other schools around the state.
"Everyone had a part in this, and this award shines a light on that really hard work and taking risks, especially during the pandemic," Quanbeck said.
Colorado Succeeds awards six winners, and 9News will profile one of them on the first Friday of each month through the rest of the school year.
"I feel like our school does a great job of taking in the surroundings around us," said freshman Shelby Lewis.
Shelby said that's the strength of Clear Creek.
"I know that many schools in Denver can't really take those opportunities and go outside and be in the mountains, in the fresh air," Shelby said. "I think that our school got recognized for that is a huge thing, and I'm proud that we got to do this."
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