Empowering Students with Innovative Risk-Taking Skills: A Colorado Magnet School’s Success Story

Imagine a learning space where students have access to real-life entrepreneurial skills, and learn how to solve modern-day problems using contemporary solutions. Picture a learning space where children from a young age, are exposed to 3D printing, coding, and to mechanisms that allow them to engage in and present their learning using cutting-edge technology – not for a few weeks of camp, but as part of their everyday curriculum. Now, stop imagining, because it is happening right here in Colorado, at the latest magnet school in Aurora, that allows elementary school students tap into unique learning experiences such as using a hologram wall (the first one in a school in the United States), to solve contemporary entrepreneurial and industrial problems.
CBEA’s principal, Laura Burke (left), poses for a photo with MindSpark’s VP of Innovative Practices, Kiki Huckaby (right), at CBEA’s grand opening in August 2022.

In August 2021, Laura Burke, founding principal of the Clara Brown Entrepreneurial Academy (CBEA), attended the MindSpark Learning Education Accelerator (EA) program. When she first connected with MindSpark, Laura had just been hired by the Aurora Public Schools (APS) as a principal to a new magnet school, and had been given 1 year to plan and be ready to launch the school. She had never run a school before, and needed support in formulating a plan, and creating a model that would work. It was through the MindSpark EA program that she, along with 2 other APS principals whom she personally recruited to join the program after reaching out to MindSpark, was able to start working on a plan for their schools. Along with her colleagues, Laura was able to create a level-up plan to address the lack of systemic policies for magnet schools in Aurora, due to restructuring in the district. Their plan was divided into 5 actionable steps that were to eventually lead to CBEA opening its doors by August 2022. The steps included, but were not limited to, attending monthly parent and teacher meetings at designated APS schools, recruiting staff members, and curriculum development. Eventually, with the help of MindSpark Learning, the 3 APS principals created a playbook that they could hand over to the school district, which could be used to support other school leaders in the future.

Apart from formulating a plan theoretically, Laura embarked on applying all that she learned in the EA program, practically. She sought to determine a name for the school she was to lead, based on community feedback. She also established her identity and that of the magnet school, through social media platforms such as LinkedIn, and learned from different learning models by visiting schools across the state of Colorado, and conducting thorough research before she came up with the unique model that CBEA is based upon. Throughout this process, MindSpark supported Laura with not only establishing her identity, but also creating the CBEA brand.

A 3D printer at work in CBEA’s Collaboration Room. CBEA students will use this printer, and other similar ones, to learn about 3D printing.

Located in the heart of Aurora, the Clara Brown Entrepreneurial Academy (CBEA), promises to mould its students into “empowered innovative risk takers”. CBEA is a magnet school in the APS system, which is tailored to prepare students for college and professional life through interdisciplinary learning methods. CBEA’s learning methods also provide students with opportunities that not only spark their interest, but also keeps them engaged, provokes them to anticipate needs, problem solve, and identify key areas of interest and the opportunities associated with said areas of interest. Named after Clara Brown, a former enslaved Black woman from Virginia who later on became the first Black settler in Colorado, and a great entrepreneur in the state, CBEA seeks to honor Clara Brown’s legacy by focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation pathways that equip K-8 students with the tools they need to be successful in whatever career fields they choose to join later on. CBEA is among 2 magnet schools approved by APS, along with The Charles Burrell Visual and Performing Arts Campus, and will be located at the recently repurposed Wheeling Elementary School. CBEA will not only serve K-8 students in APS, but also students across the Aurora metropolitan area.

The MindSpark Room: Housing Cutting-Edge Technology

A few months after her participation in MindSpark’s EA program, and earning her Leadership and Entrepreneurial Specialist credential, Laura contacted MindSpark with exciting news: She was setting up a hologram wall, and would like to honor MindSpark by naming the room which would contain the wall, after MindSpark Learning. This was important to her because, MindSpark had constantly pushed her to be innovative and creative in the way she approached student learning, and this push had driven her to meet and exceed her goals for CBEA. This news was well received, given that the idea behind the hologram wall and CBEA as a school, is one of the reasons why MindSpark exists – to diversify how students are educated, and support the success of schools such as CBEA.

In essence, the hologram wall is an interactive wall that provides students the opportunity to learn through hands-on experience. For example, if learning about the human body, a student can pull up the skeleton on the wall, move the bones, and learn by doing. CBEA’s entire model provides disruptive learning, since it targets preparing elementary school students for career-based paths, from a young age. Through aspects such as the hologram wall, the CBEA model gives its students access to industry-based tools, something that is not quite common in elementary or middle school models.

A student demonstrates how the hologram wall works during CBEA’s grand opening event.

Disruptive, high performing education systems are bound to result in long-term viability of an organization’s competence, commitment, and contribution – at MindSpark, we refer to these as the 3 C’s. Needless to say, this is what is incorporated in MindSpark’s program framework, and informed how Laura’s model was formed. As she herself mentioned when asked to comment on the compelling benefits she experienced since implementing the practices that she learned during MindSpark’s EA program, “disruption and innovation have been easier to forge through with, because this experience helped me realize there is support for that on a broader scale.” By diversifying the way the students at CBEA will experience learning, and opening up its doors to students across Aurora, the school is ensuring that students from different backgrounds who want to partake in this type of education, can access it. Thus, CBEA’s educators will find more reasons to commit to their work, and produce meaningful work which in turn will inspire their students to produce meaningful work. Secondly, having been built through community and partnerships with local organizations such as MindSpark, CBEA through Laura, is ensuring that there is adequate support for the success of the school. This is helpful as it ensures that CBEA is not only part of community, but through its model, it is positively impacting society, and its students are learning the values of bringing positive change to the communities they are a part of, as well as stand out among their peers. Thirdly, the school’s entire model that targets elementary school children is extremely disruptive in that, it does not wait until children are of a certain age before they are exposed to tools that can support them in career path choices – it exposes all its students from kindergarten level to 8th grade, to learning tools and concepts that support them throughout their elementary education. This allows them to be more innovative and easily adapt to change. They also learn to make choices that best fit their entrepreneurial, innovative, and problem-solving career paths. By giving students access to industry-based tools, CBEA is developing its students’ talents and preparing them for future leadership in the workforce.

“… disruption and innovation have been easier to forge through with, because this experience helped me realize there is support for that on a broader scale.” Laura Burke – CBEA Principal and Co-Founder

With reference to the MindSpark 3 C’s, and seeking to meet the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), CBEA’s model is a good example of the kind of work that MindSpark’s programs result in. By providing a safe and inclusive environment that prepares its students from a young age for challenges in the workforce, CBEA is meeting the UN’s SDGs’ target 4.7, that seeks to ensure that “learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development” (United Nations, 2016).

An instructor works with students on CBEA’s interactive touchscreen. The touchscreen is one of the learning advanced technology found in CBEA’s collaboration room.

To say that MindSpark Learning is excited about CBEA’s launch, is an understatement! We at MindSpark are thrilled not only about this launch, but also to see the CBEA model implemented, and to witness the great solutions that CBEA’s students provide in tomorrow’s workforce, and the unique ways in which they present these solutions. MindSpark’s vice president of innovative services and lead designer who worked with Laura, Kiki Huckaby, says it best, “Laura has a tenacious fire that every school leader should embody. She started with very little clarity about the purpose of this school and through the help of community partnerships, has built something where students will be able to identify their entrepreneurial identity and learn to fail in a low risk environment. I am excited to see what problems students coming out of Clara Brown are able to solve in our society.”

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