Mountain Vista Students Help Change the World One School at a Time


From June 12 to June 29, 17 students from Mountain Vista traveled to Europe to solve the answer to a daunting question: “How do we define success in a global society?” To find the answer, they volunteered for a community service project in London, England, designed and tested new inventions and met with college students in Paris, France, and participated in an Education First (EF) Global Student Leadership Conference in Davos, Switzerland with 1600 other international students.

“The entire time we were there was just like a dream. It’s hard to believe that so much happened in just a few days of being there,” said senior Kealy Reed.

Before they could go to Europe though, the students were required to participate in a class called Global Learning and Leaders (GLL). The class was taught by Shannon Vance, a current English teacher at Vista, and Kristen Barth, a former English teacher at Vista. The class met every Thursday morning during SOAR where the students learned about the Design Thinking process.

“Students vested a whole year of their own time to the commitment of understanding and applying the Design Thinking process,” said Vance.

Design Thinking is a unique method of crowdsourcing that businesses are gradually incorporating into their marketing plans. The key to Design Thinking is empathy. Instead of making a product with the goal of selling the largest amount possible, it’s all about the customer and giving them what they need and want.

“I know now that it’s not just my opinions that matter, but everyone’s. To best help everyone, we all need to be accepting of each others’ differences,” said Reed.

When they finally traveled to Europe, the students were deeply immersed in a variety of different cultures. In London, the students worked with an organization called the London Tigers. The goal of the organization is to unite people through sports and fitness. The students helped the London Tigers get the word out about their various programs by delivering flyers to nearby neighborhoods. After that, the students participated in a friendly game of soccer with local kids.

“It was really cool to talk to the kids and coaches and learn about the cultural differences between us and help them increase awareness for their sports complex,” said junior Justin Cochrane.

In Paris, France, the students had the opportunity to design and test new inventions they created from an odd assortment of objects in the Centre Pompidou. They also met with college students to discuss the educational differences between their countries.

“It was an enriching experience to learn about not only the differences in the education system but just life in general,” said Cochrane.

The end of the trip took place in Davos, Switzerland, where 1600 international students came together in a Global Student Leadership Conference to discuss the future of education.

“Davos really brought into focus the purpose of the Global Leadership class – it was the culmination of the 10 months of hard work the students put into the process of Design Thinking and the metaphorical icing on the cake,” said Vance.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Sir Ken Robinson, an innovator in education. Despite the 50-year age difference, Robinson connected with the students. Whether it was his tiny twerks or his powerful words, Robinson captivated his audience. One Vista student, junior Madi Spillman, had the opportunity of a lifetime: to personally meet Robinson.

“[Spillman] created a winning video highlighting what she feels is the necessary tool for success in a global society. Her award was a luncheon with Sir Ken,” said Vance.

Three other Vista students also had the opportunity of a lifetime. Upon personal request by EF, juniors Kit Miller and Jordan Patierno and senior Kealy Reed, as well as three students from Highlands Ranch High School and four students from Rock Canyon High School, led a workshop at the conference called #O.E.C.: Operation Education Collaboration.

“They modeled the Design Thinking process and set up a workshop where small student and adult groups followed the process themselves to innovate and create products. DCSD students were the only ones asked to present at the conference,” said Vance.

Throughout the length of the conference, the students worked in small, international groups where they designed, prototyped, and presented their solutions to solving the current education system. Junior Patrick Veihman and his group won the Popular Vote for their product: portable pedals that can be attached to desks to help bouncy students release their energy in a way that’s not disruptive or distracting.

“The work these brilliant and innovative students did is not limited to the boundaries of Davos; their leadership and innovation will reach the far corners of the world. The knowledge, skills, and investments in Design Thinking is something they will always carry with them – back to their communities, their careers, their travel experiences, and it will forever impact their focus of global issues and concerns. In turn, this makes them more creative, more empathetic, more sensory, more intuitive, more perceptive, more tolerant, more ecumenical, and more willing to make a difference because they know they can,” said Vance.

For the next 10 months, these 17 students will be working closely with the teachers and administrative staff at Vista to make a difference in their school. But currently, they’re simply fighting to keep their program alive. The district doesn’t see the value in having a class like this offered, but the students disagree. Here is what they have to say on the matter:

“Students should have a say in the decision making process at school, which is why I think things like student government and Global Leadership Conferences are important,” said junior Seth Bair.

“I believe students should be involved in making decisions for their school because any decision made about education directly impacts the students. This conference was very important to have because it brought up a lot of issues present in our education system that are not being addressed,” said junior Seher Puri.

“I think students should be in control over their own education. Administrators and school board members are important for organization, but they also need to consider issues from the point of view of the student. Conferences like this one are a step in the right direction, but they need to happen more often in DCSD,” said junior Sydney Murphy.

“I think it is really important that students are consulted in the decision making for education. And not only consulted, but given some amount of power or at least a vote for education-altering decisions. I respect and appreciate all of the adults that have helped form our education, but students are the ones being directly impacted. I know a lot of students have some really great ideas, such as ones heard at the conference, and I know everyone would benefit from hearing them,” said junior Morgan Nichols.


Next year’s conference will be held in The Hague. The theme is Education as a Human Right. See Mrs. Vance in the English department for more information.