The Tjardes School of Innovation Market Night sells learning and celebration at the final event in Greeley Town Center

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Fourteen-year-old Ronan Bissell checked a sell sheet with his mother.

Ronan, an eighth year student at the Fred Tjardes School of Innovation in Greeley, was more than a little excited as he and Megan watched the outcome of the evening. Ronan, who has been doing origami since he was 3, has sold all of his homemade paper origami earrings and necklaces.

Thirty-three items priced between $9 and $12 earned Ronan and the Tjardes school nearly $300.

“I managed to surprise my investors on the quality of the product,” Ronan said. “I learned that the more time and effort I put into things, I could surprise people.”

Ronan was one of more than 100 Tjardes students who attended the school’s market night late Friday afternoon and early evening in the school’s 6th Street building, next to the owner WeldWerks Brewing Company.

GREELEY, CO – MAY 06: Students, parents, community members and faculty walk among stalls during Market Night on Friday, May 6, 2022 at the Fred Tjardes School of Innovation in Greeley. The 15-year-old school organizes a “market night” three times during a school year to allow pupils to present their projects, related to the “learning loop” or the theme of the term. (Alex McIntyre/staff photographer)

Tjardes is a preschool in Greeley-Evans School District 6 for kindergarten through eighth grade with the same supervision as other schools in the district. Co-founder and senior contributor Courtney Luce said the school has the same waivers as a charter school for “freedom in curriculum and instruction.”

“We wanted the support of the larger district,” said Luce, who as a collaborator is a learning partner with the students, not a teacher. “We wanted to respond to an educational body such as the district.”

Tjardes was approved as a school with innovation status in March 2017 and opened to students the following fall. There are 123 students at the school this year. Students are admitted through a lottery system.

A school with innovation status receives waivers from the state to allow it to operate differently and with more freedom than other schools in the district, according to District 6.

Innovation schools must adhere to state guidelines for public schools, and students take state-mandated standardized tests. The school says its teaching is mission-driven, not test-driven.

The purpose of Market Night was for students to raise funds for Tjardes while learning about markets – from cyber to farmers markets – as well as training in business, marketing, communication, planning and interpersonal skills.

Student proposals can lead to a partnership where they work together. Within these skills, projects require students to write, research, and use math with budgets and calculate product demands. The students used the currency they created for the night rather than exchanging legal tender.

“And just the work ethic,” Luce said.

All student investment plans must be approved by adult investors before their products are marketed. Luce said that in many cases, proposals weren’t accepted the first time around, forcing students to rework and refine their plans.

Ronan said he needed about a week to make his jewelry. Fifth-grade students Evelynne Gant and Yahira Ruiz-Hernandez made 54 friendship bracelets out of different colored yarn in one week. Evelynne and Yahira charged $4 for each bracelet and $6 for two bracelets. Evelynne said they decided to make the bracelets because they had friends who either didn’t like metal bracelets or were allergic.

Yahira said she learned teamwork from the project. The two girls learned about deadlines and allowed themselves enough time to produce a quality product. One of the bracelets fell apart after they rushed to put it back on in time.

“Don’t rush the process,” Evelynne said. “The quality of the bracelets matters.”

Market Night was the final event in the 6th Street building, the school’s original location. Tjardes’ lease expires with WeldWerks, and the company needs space, Luce said. Tjardes is moving to Tobey-Kendel Hall on the University of Northern Colorado campus for the 2022-23 school year.

Luce said after a year at Tobey-Kendel, Tjardes would move into the Jefferson Junior High building on 13th Avenue in 2024.

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