Building community, celebrating resiliency through the pandemic

Since March, students have been tested in ways big and small, as they adjust to a new normal in the world of COVID-19. While not all of these life changes have been negative, often the pandemic has triggered feelings of sadness and disappointment, and a sense of loss.

REDI Lab Director Tom Thorpe has spent the past months focused on what we can learn and teach given this historic moment. “How might we not waste this crisis?” he wondered. “How can we think big, be creative, and use it to make our community better?”

Tasked with activating this thinking, Thorpe considered ways to use the assets of Colorado Academy and spirit of REDI Lab to boost morale on campus. What evolved was a workshop to brainstorm ways to build community and celebrate the resiliency of the student body.

Seventeen students—Freshmen to Seniors—chose to come to campus on their day off to participate. Using a design sprint process—the D in REDI Lab is for design—students broke into groups and, in rapid-fire fashion, shared their thoughts on these prompts:

  • What is CA getting right, right now?
  • What do we celebrate at CA?
  • Teachers, Dr. Davis and/or Dr. Vogels, what you don’t get is _____.
  • What do we spotlight at CA?
  • What do we need to highlight more at CA?

By filling up big sticky pads with colored Post-it Notes of ideas, themes began to emerge. Groups were then given 30 minutes and challenged to identify a need and develop a solution to address it—complete with a pitch and prototype.

As the groups reconvened to share their proposals with each other and Head of School Dr. Davis, common threads became evident. The students naturally focused on ways to connect socially, show appreciation, and build community.

The solutions they designed were not only inspiring, and likely to bring a new sense of excitement to school, but actionable. Dr. Davis noted that the scope of the proposals was realistic, and the ideas could be implemented with motivated leadership and minimal resources. There was also unexpected synergy within the proposals, allowing ideas to be blended into concepts with greater depth.

That not a single prototype focused on academics did not surprise Thorpe. “I believe that teens—and for that matter most humans—want to gather and look for shared experiences. We always claim that the CA community takes good care of one another, and these ideas were emblematic of this value.”

The opportunity to take the pulse of the school and listen to the voices of students helps CA live its mission and reinforce a healthy and vibrant community. Thorpe hopes to provide additional sessions in the future. For example, he says, “a few of the participants asked if we could have a design session after the 2020 Presidential Election to help process the outcomes and come together as a community to appreciate the resiliency of our democracy.”

Students are now focused on next steps and fine-tuning the proposals over the coming weeks. According to Senior Catherine O’Halloran, students are working out who will take on leadership roles. The community can expect a special “reveal” of these entertaining new initiatives later this fall.