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Green Mountain High School wins award for lending a helping hand

A school in the Jefferson County School District uses a math program to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity.

This school year, Jefferson County Public Schools brought in a new program to make sure their students were understanding high school math.

“Math is an area that I think everyone of us struggle,” Green Mountain High School principal Colleen Owens said. “We have a pretty big niche of kids that aren’t grasping the traditional way that we teach math and catching them at this early age is a life changer for our kids and how they approach it.”

Credit: Byron Reed

The district implemented a program called “Geometry in Construction” designed to give students hands-on problem solving experience that combines math instruction with contextual learning or construction. It’s a concept thought up about 13 years ago by two teachers from Loveland.

“We knew what was going on in education just wasn’t working for the majority of students,” Co-creator Scott Burke said. “And we just felt we wanted to try something different and make change in that.”

Burke says the program has spread to over 500 high schools nationwide where students help build homes for Habitat for Humanity. The Jefferson County School District brought in their program to high schools like Green Mountain, Columbine and Golden — with the hope of sparking interests in contextual jobs like trades, architecture and civil engineering.

Credit: Byron Reed

“Every couple of weeks, I sit in on local advisory boards and I hear local employers talk about how there’s an incredible shortage, especially in trades and in construction,” said Burke. “It just creates such a rich environment for them to be able to take that learning and drill really deep into what does it actually mean, how does it relate to the real-world and it always answers the age-old question in math: ‘When am I ever going to need to know how to use this?'”

That real-world experience is part of the reason why the school won the Succeeds Prize for Excellence in Education Innovation. The award was created in collaboration with Colorado Succeeds, 9NEWS, mindSpark Learning and the last three Governors.

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

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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.

“I was so proud of our teachers and our students,” Owens said. “We don’t get that many opportunities in education to have that feeling.”

“I feel like it’s a pretty cool opportunity because we get to show the rest of the schools how useful it will be and teach what works and what doesn’t,” sophomore J.J. Armstrong said. 

“I get to learn something new every day,” sophomore Kaley Reinke said, “It’s not the same every day, it’s not your normal math class.”

Owens said she hopes this program will keep learning math fun for her students through a job that opens up many opportunities.

Credit: Byron Reed

“It’s not just about learning math or building a house or learning construction, it is a climate and culture in a classroom where kids are practicing leadership, team work and entrepreneurialism.”

“This helps reinforce a lot of the math components and drives home the fact that we are building something for a local family in need,” Burke said.

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