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This Stem-focused District Hands Out Paychecks Along With Report Cards

In one back room at Skyline High School, you can learn all you need to know about St. Vrain Valley School District. It’s there that bins of materials sit next to past projects, exposing the district’s DNA.

Boxes holding glue, Popsicle sticks, tape, pipe cleaners, compasses, zip ties and rulers lie nestled inside a 6-foot-high, student-constructed rack. Behind the storage unit sits a rectangular wooden box stuffed with bicycle tires filled with Silly Putty to replicate human intestines. For that biomedical project, students had to create a probe and learn to maneuver it sight unseen from behind a curtain on the box’s opening to procure a sample from the intestine/bike tire.

“We want students to use their brains and learn what careers could look like,” said Axel Reitzig, a program director at the district’s Innovation Center. And career preparation here isn’t just a buzzword but more like a guiding principle: When the end-of-day bell sounds, some children transition from students to employees of the district, and earn $10 an hour for working on a variety of projects for local technology companies.

This year, 80 students (age 15 or older) are being paid to work on 10 different teams. In the past, student work has ranged from the cutting edge to the routine, from creating a measuring tool that uses lasers to estimate the length of great white sharks to teaching officials in Longmont, the district’s main city, how to better use smartphones in their jobs.