CARBONDALE — The transition from elementary to middle school is a big adjustment for some students. After all, making new friends and navigating a new building can be frustrating.

“Everything’s different,” said Aleyda Loya, an eighth-grade student at Carbondale Middle School. “Because we start changing classes, we start traveling around the school.”

Loya attends Carbondale Middle School which sits on the Western Slope. Students in grades six through eight attend school, which has about 350 diverse students from many cultures, who speak different languages.

“We have a lot of people from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico,” said Loya.

“It’s always challenging when you have several different languages,” said school Principal Jennifer Lamont. “We have a lot of different families, working families in the valley.”

About four years ago, the district identified the need for more powerful relationships with the students to make sure everyone felt included.

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“Kids moved from academic class to academic class and every teacher had 80 plus students throughout the day,” said math teacher Megan Currier. “Sometimes there were kids getting missed, and they weren’t necessarily close to their math teacher or their science teacher.”

So the school implemented a program called CREW—a district-wide initiative where schools dedicate time during the school day for teachers and students to focus on building character. They use the time to work on relationship skills and team building projects to ensure every student will feel like they are valued at school. According to the district, the project has led to growth among all students, regardless of race or income.

“So much during the day, we are throwing so much at kids and we realized that the most important thing that we can do for kids and get them more connected is through relationships,” said Lamont.

“As a math teacher, I have certain academic goals I have to reach,” said Currier. “But this is a time when we can let go of some of that and really get to know each other.”

It’s that connection that helped the school win the Succeeds Prize for Transformational Impact in middle school education. 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. 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.

“Everybody was shocked,” said Loya. “Nobody could believe it because there are other great middle schools here and for us to have that chance to have won it is crazy for us.”

“We have a lot of teachers who think out of the box and are providing really great opportunities for kids to get involved with the community and in school,” said Lamont. “Anytime you spend a lot of effort and it turns out successful, it’s a really great feeling.”

The school wants to make sure students feel like they’re part of a community especially during such a big turning point in their lives.

“Actually there’s a lot of people I didn’t know and I wanted to know them a little better,” said Loya. "Once you do that, you find yourself making more friends than you had before.”

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

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