Kudos for Strawberry Park Elementary yield ‘virtual’ rewards for Steamboat students | SteamboatToday.com

Kudos for Strawberry Park Elementary yield ‘virtual’ rewards for Steamboat students

Students in teacher Christine Russell's second-grade class at Strawberry Park Elementary School, Henry Davis, Grant Ellsworth, Cesar Chavez, Maren Sachs and Belgan Mertz, collaborate on a lesson about habitats. Soon, they may be able to explore virtual habitats.
Tom Ross

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Students and teachers at Strawberry Park Elementary School in Steamboat Springs will soon have the chance to slip on a pair of virtual reality goggles and explore a tropical rain forest or arid desert without leaving their desks.

The opportunity is thanks to a $20,000 award from the Colorado Department of Education. The school received the funding after the CDE selected Strawberry Park to participate in its High Flyers Network, a program intended to replicate the success of a handful of Colorado’s public schools that are designated as High Achieving Schools for boosting the academic performance of students who are English language learners or have a disability or economic disadvantage.

The first $10,000 of the award is being used to purchase 24 sets of virtual reality goggles to help students broaden their horizons.

As an example, the school’s technology integration specialist Loretta Edwards said students at the school, who are studying ecosystems, may be able to take a virtual trip to a rain forest and benefit from a vivid experience of the biodiversity those forests offer.

“When they have those experiences their achievement goes through the roof.” Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal Tracy Stoddard.

The expectation is that the experience will motivate the youngsters to learn more about the subject.

“It’s one of the things that helps kids to be immersed in a variety of subjects by extending learning about what they are already doing in the classroom,” Edwards explained. “The goal here is to raise their engagement and increase their knowledge.”

Other students, who are already learning computer coding, will be able to create their own virtual worlds and present them through the goggles.

The second $10,000 from the award will be used to bring in high-level school assemblies to broaden the students’ perceptions of what they could do with their adult lives.

Later this spring, CDE staff will visit Strawberry Park to make a comprehensive study of the practices in place at the school.

The second phase of the project will take place in the spring of 2019. That’s when educators from schools in the state’s Connect for Success program will visit Steamboat to experience the strategies that make the local schools so successful.

Strawberry Park Principal Tracy Stoddard said that after many brainstorming sessions with Soda Creek Elementary School Principal Michele Miller, they have learned that one of the best ways to motivate and support students who need a boost is to provide them with actual experiences that open their minds and broaden their life experiences.

Stoddard said both elementary schools used a “sizeable” grant from the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation in Steamboat Springs about three years ago to take those students on adventures, both after school and during the extended summer program. When they rode to the top of the Steamboat Gondola to learn about how it works or when they were given the chance to take swimming lessons, the results quickly showed up in their writing assignments.

“These are experiences they haven’t had before,” Stoddard said. “If they get to do something they’ve never done before, when the teacher asks them to write about an experience they’ve had, they are excited. Their level of engagement is high. When they have those experiences, their achievement goes through the roof.”

The hope is that the latest grant will broaden those efforts.

Stoddard said her staff’s devotion to their students comes from a broader commitment to their overall wellbeing that goes beyond academic performance.

“In the whole school district, we take care of them, we embrace them. They are our children,” Stoddard said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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