It all started with the idea of empowering students to be educators and peer-mentors. And a question: “what would happen if we gave students the opportunity to explore education through a different lens?”

Back in the ’80s, Dayton School District began exploring the concept of giving students more academic independence. This exploration led to Dayton’s first student athletic directors. At the time, Assistant Principal Roger Lorenzen was a PE teacher at Dayton. According to Mr. Lorenzen,  because of those students’ experience as leaders, many of them ended up pursuing teaching careers.

Today, Dayton understands the importance of independent extracurriculars in school. Because Dayton is striving to encourage their students’ passions for education by giving them leadership roles, they are becoming passionate educators for life.

Last year, Dayton’s Athletic Director Champ program was re-introduced to Dayton School District as an independent elective class. Its purpose is to empower students as leaders by giving them opportunities to contribute to the school, especially in the athletics department. The program has also allowed students to strengthen skills in ways that have expanded far beyond athletics.

Mr. Lorenzen, the AD Champ instructor, has seen the Innovate mindset grow to all facets of the school district — even in the athletics department. But it isn’t just Dayton School District that has seen this mindset being applied in sports.

At the 1968 Mexico City Games, Oregon athlete Dick Fosbury revolutionized the high jump forever. He challenged the long-established jumping technique widely used in the sport, by creating and performing a new technique later known as the Fosbury Flop. Although it initially raised some eyebrows from judges and even garnered criticism, it won him the Olympic gold medal and went on to make Olympic history.

On that day, Fosbury challenged the norm. Today, Dayton School District sees Fosbury’s story as a perfect example of the Innovate mindset.

All students in the AD Champ program do something different. Their responsibilities can include adjusting mics for games, repairing tech equipment, setting up sports fields, operating maintenance vehicles, updating the reader board, and even announcing for games.

For some students, the program has changed their entire mindset inside and outside of school.

Claudia Rojas-Carrillo is an 8th-grade student at Dayton Junior High who became the voice of the Pirates starting at last year’s first soccer game. As an AD Champ, Claudia was recording player stats while seated next to the sports announcer. At the beginning of the game, the announcer began to call off the names of the soccer players as they ran onto the field. But Claudia couldn’t help but notice that the announcer was mispronouncing many of the Hispanic names. She informed the announcer that she was pronouncing them incorrectly and what happened next startled Claudia — the announcer offered her the mic instead.

Though Claudia was nervous and fully out of her comfort zone at that moment, she felt compelled to help. So she began announcing the players. After she’d finished, she asked the announcer not to release her identity but she continued announcing more soccer games following that day. “I was okay with just being ‘the voice.’” She explained.

But as she continued announcing, she uncovered a level of confidence that she never realized she had. Being the sports announcer helped her grow as a public speaker and allowed her to face her initial fears of being publicly judged — even if she didn’t realize it at first. Claudia soon became proud to be an announcer. But more importantly, she became proud of herself.  “I felt proud to be bilingual.” She said. “I felt like I was helping someone feel more welcome at Dayton.”

When you allow a person to think independently and create something impactful, you are empowering them as individuals. Individuals like 8th grader Claudia Rojas-Carrillo or famous athlete Dick Fosbury. Individuals that have the capability to look at one thing, and see another. As Dayton continues to explore the Innovate mindset, they are giving students opportunities to re-imagine education and create experiences that they will carry far beyond school.

Bevin Schrag Administrator

Bevin Schrag is a writer for Innovate Oregon. While working in social media and marketing at OnlineNW, she is currently studying the arts at Chemeketa Community College, to later become a media designer.