In the beginning, Innovate Dayton was only a dream. An aspiration to celebrate the power of student initiative and to unleash their creative genius. This vision sought to more deeply connect the community and the school district, to re-imagine education together for Dayton.

The idea was to give students new opportunities in school to become empowered learners, educators, artists, writers, tinkerers, programmers, mathematicians, and scientists. To show students that, by taking their educational aspirations into their own hands, they can create brilliant things beyond existing expectations and to learn how to apply their skills to the world beyond.

A large delegation of Australian principals and administrators caught wind of Dayton’s dream. Last week, over twenty of these educators visited Dayton to tour the high school.

The educators started their visit with an In & Out activity — a teaching and learning practice developed by Design Challenge and Genius Hour teacher Jennifer Shilhanek. Jami Fluke, Dayton High School and Junior High principal, collaborated with Mrs. Shilhanek to bring the activity to the old gym where students from Dayton Junior High and High School stood in a large circle. They were positioned to face the outside of the circle while the Australian educators made their way around it, one by one, in quick rotations. During each rotation, the educators met a new student and learned more about the students’ learning journey and Dayton’s story, piece by piece.

Mrs. Shilhanek explained how powerful it was to see such a diverse group of students — young and old, from all backgrounds, and with a vast array of different experiences, speaking to these educators. She described the energy of the room as “incredible” and “full of passion.” And the conversations, though they moved quickly and lasted only minutes, were intense. It was an inspiring day for Dayton.

8th grader Gavin Koch and 12th grader Alison Williams present their projects

Grace Adams is a junior at Dayton who participated in the In & Out activity. She spoke about her involvement in Dayton’s trip to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) last year as a leading presenter and spokesperson. Grace felt that it was empowering to share her own story, as well as her connection to the larger story of Innovate Dayton.

Grace told the educators that a key element of why Innovate Dayton is so successful was because the teachers created this learning environment in partnership with the students.

Reflecting later, Grace shared a conversation she’d had three or four years ago with Principal Jami Fluke. They were in the process of creating and defining Innovate Dayton together, while discussing their individual hopes and plans for the future of Dayton School District. They started by brainstorming ways to use innovative thinking to positively impact the school. Then the local community. Then the state, the country, and eventually, the world. Innovate Dayton was built on the idea that the agile mindset could impact education on a global scale.

During the Australian visit, students and staff at Dayton had a gripping realization: that they had fulfilled their dream to impact the world beyond the little town of Dayton; it happened right before their eyes. “We’re on our way to something great,” Grace says. “Two years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined we’d be here. Picture where we will be two years from now!”

The Australian delegation learned that the students from all areas of the high school and junior high are becoming powerful learners and makers. A team of students created a project that took them to MIT in Cambridge, MA. Students have piloted projects and participated in organizations to be presented at Nike conferences and meetings all over the State. They have spoken in panels packed full of teachers and administrators from Oregon school districts as well as industry professionals. And as a result of Dayton’s vast achievements, the district is receiving international attention by educators who have become inspired by Dayton’s story.

The story of Innovate Dayton is still evolving. As Dayton School District continues to write this story, they are exploring new ways to prepare their students for the future and empower them beyond the classroom. Great things await Dayton’s future, as well as the transformation of education.

The educators gather for a photo outside of Dayton High School

Photos by Alexandria Bowlin

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.