By Makenzie O'Keefe

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Jefferson County Public Schools is giving away up to one million dollars to improve learning. It’s all part of the district’s Innovation Fund.

Students and teachers submit creative ideas to Jeffco Public Schools’ Innovation Fund Program. (credit: CBS)

More than 70 applicants, both teachers and students, have applied for this year’s fund. Participants submit their innovative learning ideas, which will be voted on by other members of the school district.

“My idea is called Project 5 Billion,” explained 9th grader, Leigh Schmidt. “It’s an environmental awareness project.”

Through social media, Schmidt is working to educate students about their environmental impact.

(credit: CBS)

“Every couple of weeks I post a challenge like eat vegetarian for two weeks,” she explained. “Environmental issues are stuff that affect, us and my generation is the generation that has to deal with it.”

Schmidt hopes that challenging students to think differently about the environment, will create positive habits. It’s a project she wants to grow, so she’s applying for the Jeffco Innovation Fund.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s really just getting it out there, that’s the biggest difference that I can make,” Schmidt told CBS4.

The Jeffco Innovation Fund is made up of one million dollars from the district’s budget. The goal is to invest in ideas students or staff have to improve learning experience and meet learning needs in new ways.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for staff and now for students to have a mechanism of sharing their ideas and potentially getting some funding so they can bring their ideas to life,” explained Dr. Tom McDermott, the district’s Chief Strategy Officer.

(credit: CBS)

Over the past two years, 30 ideas have received funding through the program. Those ideas range from a theater program, to a dropout prevention program which CBS4 featured this spring. It works to re-engage at-risk teenagers in school, by introducing them to potential career paths.

“We’ve seen great success,” McDermott explained. “Lots of wonderful innovations that have had a great impact on student learning experiences.”

(credit: CBS)

This is the first year that students have been able to apply for the funding. The applications are currently going through the voting phase, where staff and students can vote on their favorite idea.

Jeffco Public Schools expects to announce the winning ideas in January of 2020.

Makenzie O'Keefe

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