Indigo Schools

Podcast: How to Identify Entrepreneurial Students

On Innovate Carolina’s podcast, On the Heels of Innovation, Indigo CEO Sheri Smith and Ted Zoller discuss how Indigo helps schools identify students who have what it takes to become powerful entrepreneurs. These individualistic, forward-thinking students will make up the backbone of successful businesses for generations to come, so Indigo helps schools by identifying these students early to allow for greater educational support and encouragement. In this episode, Sheri talks about how Indigo Project inspires entrepreneurial-oriented students to build their own ventures and tackle life’s challenges. Give it a listen!

On The Heels of Innovation with Ted Zoller · Season 3, Episode 9 – Identifying the entrepreneurial spark

Colorado Impact Days

Indigo Education Company is honored to be one of 60 organizations selected for the 2019 Colorado Impact Days, taking place next week from March 11th to March 14th. Colorado Impact Days was founded as a way to connect social enterprises and nonprofits with individuals and foundations looking to increase their impact on their communities. On Tuesday, March 12th, CEO and founder of Indigo, Sheri Smith, will present Indigo Education Company and its vision to change the education system starting with the individual.

This marks the fourth year of CO Impact Days, a venture that has helped invest over $201 million in social enterprises and nonprofits since 2016. The event will take place at the Curtis Hotel in Denver and includes the National Opportunity Zone Summit, the Social Venture Marketplace, and speaking engagements from foundation leaders and investors.

Empathy in STEM

On February 9th, 2019, CEO and founder of Indigo Education Company Sheri Smith spoke at the University of Colorado, Denver for the Department of Bioengineering’s event Women as Innovators: Creating Success in the Workplace.” Speaking to a group of 30 female engineering students from multiple disciplines, Sheri was able to share with attendees the importance of practicing empathy and bringing a woman’s perspective to male-dominated STEM fields.

Visit for more information on indigo’s work in Higher Education.

Assessment helps CSET engineer stronger students

Marette Hahn never will forget the day a freshly minted Grand Canyon University graduate dropped into her office, the big, bright, wide world rolling out the red carpet for him, spilling out all of its possibilities.

It was the summer after he graduated, his premed degree in biology still fresh in his hand. He was going to be a doctor.

His parents wanted him to be a doctor.

“But he had no desire to go into medical school,” Hahn said.

The student admitted to her, after four long years of climbing up that wall of chemistry and physics and calculus, “I hate it. I don’t want anything to do with it.”

Then came THE question: “Now what do I do?”

It wasn’t a fun conversation to have, Hahn said.

Members of the Canyon Activities Board took the Indigo Assessment, a comprehensive personality and career assessment, over the summer. Several Student Engagement groups and full-time employee groups at GCU have taken the survey to help with team-building.

These days, when the College of Science, Engineering and Technology student success specialist speaks to students, she often tells that story.

“I don’t want to have that conversation with you,” she tells them, at least not after they graduate: “I want to have that conversation with you while you’re a freshman or sophomore, while we still have time to figure it out.”

Stories like that are part of the reason why CSET takes a unique approach in serving its students and helping them find “their God-given purpose,” as CSET Dean Dr. Mark Wooden calls it.

Personality survey on steroids

It was in 2015, when GCU built its engineering programs, that the college started using the Indigo Project’s Indigo Assessment, a comprehensive career and personality assessment the department gives to its freshman engineering students.

This year’s cohort has until Sunday to take the survey before Hahn starts making her rounds in the engineering classrooms on Monday to “debrief” students on the results.

CSET Dean Dr. Mark Wooden said the assessment helps incoming engineering students determine early on whether their choice of an engineering major is truly in line with their internal motivators.

CSET is the only college on campus to incorporate an assessment like this into the curriculum, though Career Services does offer Career Compass to all GCU students who are trying to find a career path.

Just call it a personality and career survey on steroids.

“We were looking for something that would help incoming students determine early on whether their choice of an engineering major was truly in line with their internal motivators and capitalized on their unique strengths,” Wooden said.

Even if the student hasn’t asked, “Do I have the personal disposition and skills for the field I’ve chosen?” Or, “Will I be entering a career truly meant for me?” Wooden said, no problem. The department is asking – and answering – those questions through the survey.

More than academics

When helping craft the engineering program, Dr. Michael Sheller, Associate Dean of Engineering at the time, wanted the program to be more than merely academics.

“He wanted these engineers to graduate as well-rounded professionals ready to enter the workforce, and not a lot of college students have those professional skills,” said Hahn, who worked in Career Services before moving to CSET. “They don’t have enough experience, so he was really interested in trying to build, essentially, the career-development pieces into the curriculum. So rather than them having to go out and seek out that kind of assistance and guidance, it was just built in there for them.”

Such assessments have been used in corporate America for development training for decades. But in recent years, organizations such as the Indigo Project have found value in assessing college and high school students, too, and making them self-aware.

Not that the assessment’s value is just in suggesting career choices. It also gives insights into what motivates people, what value they have on a team and even how to improve their study skills.

The assessment incorporates the DISC model, which outlines four behavioral styles — dominant, influencing, steady and compliant.

The survey, which analyzes a person’s behavioral style, motivators, social emotional perceptions and 21st-century skills, takes about 45 minutes to complete. It asks students to rank, for example, what’s most important to them out of a list of 20 or so possibilities. Would it be a new car that’s ranked at No. 1? Or helping others? The survey wants to know if you value beautiful surroundings or if you like learning just for learning’s sake.

After completing the assessment, students receive a more than 20-page report detailing their top five skills, motivators, their strengths and their value to a team.

“It’s scary how accurate it is,” Hahn said of her own Indigo report.

A major part of the assessment is the DISC Model, which divides people into their behavioral styles: dominant, influencing, steady or compliant.

High dominants are big-picture risk-takers and go-getters, while low D’s are the more team-oriented peacekeepers.

Influencers are the enthusiastic ones who need to be in an environment where they’re working with people. “High I’s are going to be the people who talk to people on the plane sitting next to them,” Hahn said.

Those who score high in steadiness are loyal, calm, reliable and consistent — the ones who drive the same way to work every single day – while low S-scale people need constant change.

Those who are high on the C-scale, or compliance scale, want to know exactly what is expected of them. However, low C’s are “going to find a workaround; they’re still going to try to get that end result, but they’re going to get it in a different way,” Hahn said.

Building teams

Mechanical engineering technology professor Dina Higgins has used results from the Indigo Assessment to build student teams, particularly lab groups.

Mechanical engineering technology professor Dina Higgins

“That’s the biggest thing we do with it,” she said of herself and fellow engineering professors. “I put a group together based on Indigo results. … It’s interesting, because you can form groups in different ways.”

She said she has put teams together made up of members who all were congenial types that got along well. But that combination hasn’t always yielded the best results.

“The group didn’t have the person that says, ‘Hey, we’ve got a deadline. We’ve got to go!’”

Faculty have access to a dashboard and can pull up students’ profiles, see their classes, get a sense for their behavioral styles and put together effective teams based just on communication style, for example.

As for how the assessment helps students, Higgins said that those who might have doubted their choice in their career path will see their attributes highlighted in writing: “I think it’s a real good morale-builder. They realize they do have those tools to be successful. It’s like their swagger comes back,” she said.

Higgins has taken the survey herself. It helped her realize why she wasn’t the best fit for a business-development job she once had. She was good at the educational portion of that job but said she never wanted to close the sale. Looking at her Indigo results, she was reminded how money isn’t a motivator for her.

“Of course!” she said of that revelation. “Even as old as you might be, you still can learn things.”

She loves the “time-wasters” portion of the assessment, too, which details for the user what might hinder someone from maximizing their time.

Higgins said the DISC Model has been used in the corporate world for years. Having taken this sort of assessment in college gives students an advantage. They might, for example, realize their boss is a certain behavioral type and will know when to back off.

That kind of knowledge, Higgins said, “is empowering for a student.”

Team dynamics

While CSET is the only college to incorporate the Indigo Assessment into its curriculum, it isn’t the only department on campus using the survey. After hearing about the test, other groups on campus have been interested in taking the assessment, too.

CSET has collaborated with Student Engagement to help facilitate that.

The Associated Students of GCU, for one, “fell in love with it,” Hahn said. She has completed Indigo Assessment training with not just ASGCU but with the Canyon Activities Board, Freshmen Class Council and full-time staff, too.

“I just love doing those presentations so much because there’s so much clicking that happens. People will say, ‘Oh, that makes so much sense,’” she said. “It’s a little bit of personal awareness and development, but also some team dynamics as well.”

The Indigo Assessment is incorporated into the freshman engineering curriculum.

Rizella Espiritu, ASGCU club advocate and a sophomore nursing student, took the assessment with fellow ASGCU members during leadership training at the end of summer. The students shared their results with each other and attended roundtable discussions.

“A big part of it was to learn from each other and learn how we work differently,” Espiritu said.

Fellow ASGCU club advocate Madison Wade, sophomore environmental science student, said the test helped the team “get the best work out of each other.”

ASGCU’s Lexi King, a sophomore studying psychology, said the value in the assessment for her was it “helped us to know how to interact with each other.”

While the group used the survey mainly for team-building, King said it also guided them toward careers that meld with their personalities: “It helped you to know what environment you work best in,” she said.

Not that the assessment’s career guidance is an absolute be all, end all. Hahn said that whatever the Indigo report says, students ultimately have the power to decide what they’ll be doing after they leave the GCU campus, and they have their career and personality assessment as a tool to help them make those decisions.

“It’s not that you can’t do it. It’s that you’re really going to have to push yourself to do it if it doesn’t come naturally to you,” she said.

While engineers are high in steadiness and compliance, Higgins said she doesn’t fit the mold. She scores extremely high as an influencer and is an enthusiastic people person. 

“Engineering is not on my Indigo Assessment list for jobs,” she said, making this point to her freshman engineering students: “When you get this (Indigo Assessment) over the weekend, if the word engineering isn’t on there, don’t freak out. … We’ve got three engineers (on the faculty) who are high I’s. That’s not an engineering personality.”

So many different things go into engineering, she pointed out. For her, when it comes to an “engineering personality,” really, “There isn’t one.”

What there is is the knowledge that the world still will be rolling out that red carpet and spilling out all of its possibilities.

Click here to see article on GCU.

Athletics meet Non-Academics: College Basketball Team using Indigo to Up Their Game


(Version of this story published in Niagara Gazette).

Coach Bill Beilein isn’t only teaching offensive and defensive strategies to his players, he’s also teaching how to work with people different than them.

Coach Bill Beilein is tackling sports head on with Indigo.

Coach Bill Beilein is tackling sports head on with Indigo.

Beilein is the head men’s basketball coach at Niagara County Community College, and this season is a momentum builder. It’s the best record he’s seen at NCCC as the head coach, including decisive victories over teams like Henry Ford College (95-47) and Isaiah Christopher Academy (107-59). His goal is to capitalize on momentum to make NCCC a destination school for junior college athletes.

As Beilein and his assistant coach Mike Corbi continue to further their success, they have to dive deeper into how to develop players. “Some of the questions we have to answer are how will we grow together and understand each other?” said Beilein, “Also, who are we as a team and what are our ideal circumstances for peak player performance?”

Beilein now has the luxury of taking a step back to understand the individual strengths of his players, and how he can capitalize on them both on and off the court. He needed to understand who are the young men that make up his team.

Regional Director Natalie and the Niagara County Community College basketball team.

Regional Director Natalie and the Niagara County Community College basketball team.

Beilein brought on Indigo to learn more about how he can improve the human dynamics on his team. Indigo provided the Indigo Inventory to engage students in who they are and how they can work better together.

The work changed the dynamics of the team. The Inventory helped both the coaches learn more about how to communicate with and motivate individual players. It also helped the team better understand how to talk with their coaches. Beilein is a dominant, loud, move quick and act quick kind of coach who should be approached with big-picture things. Corbi is more of a low-key, consistent, detail tracking coach who can handle the day-to-day, granular issues of each player.

NCCC team players discussing the results of their Indigo Reports.

NCCC team players discussing the results of their Indigo Reports.

It also helps the coaches identify opportunities to develop students outside of athletics – character, academics, career future. It helps focus on opportunities to bring the best out of players, and translate that success to life off the court.

One of Indigo’s focuses in Western New York is to create more opportunities to connect students to career pathways and opportunities based on their strengths. “There is a huge push to expand conversations like the ones happening with NCCC’s basketball team in schools,” said Indigo Program Director Natalie. “Our goal is to reach more than 50,000 New York students in 2017 so that we can help students find that spark that will drive them in life.”

Through Natalie, Indigo Project is working with 10+ high schools and community organizations, including entities such as Liberty Partnerships, Lewiston-Porter, Lockport, Grand Island, and Niagara Global Tourism Institute. 


High School Sun Devils Discover who they are Through Indigo

It may be January, but it’s still warm under the Arizona sun. We went out to meet high school students at ASU Preparatory Academy to unpack the Indigo with the Sun Devils. But we added a new twist: instead of working with the students on one day and the teachers on the other, we sat down for four hours with students and teachers in the same room.

Now, four hours is a long time, no matter how many bagel breaks you toss into the package. You may wondering: is it even possible for teachers and students to stay that long in the same room without going crazy?

Maybe it’s the magic of school, maybe it’s the magic of Indigo, or maybe we had just the right amount of bagel breaks: they were engaged the entire time. And they stayed after to ask questions.

How do you get teachers and students that engaged? The same way you make a first date go well – you let them talk about themselves. It’s as easy as that.

The whole day was designed around unpacking the Indigo Inventory answering questions around who students are, who teachers are, and how they can better work together by knowing each other better.

I could tell you more, but students are better storytellers than I am. Here’s how four students reacted to the Indigo Inventory and going through an Indigo Day with their teachers.

Gonzalo / 9th Grade: 

Dominance is my type of behavior style. I am tough but fair and I view championing as a worthy cause. I strive to improve myself or the situation I am involved with. I have a competitive nature and enjoy working with others. The Indigo Self-Assessment results were pretty accurate in their description of me.”

Isabella / 9th Grade: 

“I discovered that I have an Influencing behavior style. I like to lead and work with people who can hold a conversation. I appreciate constructive criticism but don’t respond well to being talked down to. I know how to negotiate to get what I want. The results were accurate and there were even some characteristics that I hadn’t realized about myself.”

Ethan / 11th Grade: 

“I was surprised at how detailed the Indigo assessment results were. They really described the way I am. I am a “High I” which means I have an influencing behavior style. I am detail oriented, creative, but I also have difficulty managing my time. I do a really good job of verbalizing my feelings, negotiating and giving feedback.”

Kale / 12th Grade: 

“My Indigo results showed that I am high in the area of Steadiness. I am a steady and consistent member of a team and look for a strong leader to support. I have a good mix of procedures and creativity that I can offer a team. I found it interesting to see the careers I was matched with such as photography, forestry and being a laboratory assistant, which I am actually interested in becoming.”

Thank you for letting us come into your school, ASU Prep! We look forward to future opportunities to work together (and more warm winter days in Arizona)!

Two Roads Assistant Principal Writes Academic Paper on Indigo

Teachers at Two Roads Charter School in an Indigo Training.

Teachers at Two Roads Charter School in an Indigo Training.

    John Waters, rocking the backward hat.

    John Waters, rocking the backward hat.

John Waters is an Assistant Principal at Two Roads Charter school. He’s a four-time “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers” and knows where all the good places to eat are in Westminster (trust me, we went to Dae Gee last time). In my opinion, he’s one of the most chill High S and High C’s I’ve ever met.

Not only is Waters clocking 40+ hours a week working with the Two Roads family, but he’s also working on his masters right now at the University of Colorado Denver. He did an organization profile on Indigo Project this past fall, interviewing multiple members of the Indigo team to learn about what we are doing.

We loved his paper. Not only is Waters a sharp operator, but he’s worked with Indigo for nearly a year now at Two Roads. He’s seen us from a researcher and client perspective. This is how, in his eyes, he sees our mission:

“To understand Indigo Project’s mission is to also understand that students do not achieve success in secondary education solely through standardized practices and methodologies. While all good teachers know that there are various learning styles within each classroom … many struggle with how to dig deeper in knowledge of their students … Indigo enters when a school wants to deconstruct these and discuss solutions and opportunities for growth.”

                Students at Two Roads' Littleton campus after an Indigo Student Workshop.

                Students at Two Roads’ Littleton campus after an Indigo Student Workshop.

There are no systems or standardized practices that meets the needs of students in secondary education because there are no systems or practices that fits for everyone. Students are different, and Indigo helps deconstruct what makes students who they are. We build solutions with administrator teams.

One of the great things about Two Roads is that their entire administration team is on board with the work Indigo is doing:

“Because the administrators at my school are committed to understanding our students beyond their academic performance, we felt there were missing pieces in our puzzle of holistically developing our student body…Our leadership team was frustrated with our students’ low state-level standardized test scores because we knew they were learning but struggled to perform well on the tests’ markers.”

Two Roads’ district, Jefferson County Public Schools, is beginning the conversation around non-academic outcomes (NAO). JeffCo is working to create more opportunities in development for growth mindset, grit, collaboration, and mindfulness to name a few.

Two Roads' teachers talking about what personalized education would look like at their school.

Two Roads’ teachers talking about what personalized education would look like at their school.

NAO is still in its early days, and districts everywhere are working to define what it is, how to measure it, and what “impact” really means. It’s part of the conversation we are having with Two Roads currently. It takes time. It takes effort.

Waters knows that the newness of NAO means it will take time to see tangible results. Although the long-range goals are still being discovered in Indigo and Two Roads’ partnership, Waters still believes Indigo is part of the future of NAO:

“If Jeffco and other school districts in the state or nationwide choose to explore NAO, I would advocate strongly for Indigo Project despite my school’s lack of identifying definitive outcomes at this time.”

This is what we’re most excited for in 2017. Now that we’ve established our presence in Colorado, New York, California, and Arizona (projects in over ten states), we are working to build new tools and platforms that will allow schools to do even more than they are already doing with Indigo data. We’re discovering new ways to make non-academic data intersect intelligently with curriculum, counseling, analysis, and most importantly, building personal and meaningful human relationships that matter.

We’re not a perfect company, and we’re still growing into who we are. But it’s always encouraging to see schools give honest opinions, help us grow, and stand by us as we continue to move forward in the mission of impacting one million students. Because students, at the end of the day, are why anyone who works at Indigo gets out of bed in the morning.

                           Director Joel Kaplan teaching improv after a student workshop.

                           Director Joel Kaplan teaching improv after a student workshop.

Student Voice: Ahrash

Student Voice: Ahrash

April 25th, 2016, written by Nathan Robertson

I met Ahrash in a Kansas City suburb. I was working with 100 or so students doing workshops at his school, Blue Valley CAPS. At the end of the day, one of the administrators pulled me aside.


“Hey Nathan, can you talk with one of our students? I think you may have some good advice for him.”

“Sure. What’s his name? Anything I should know about him?”

“His name is Ahrash – he owns his own business. He’s trying to increase sponsorship for gaming tournaments he runs, thought you may have some good thoughts for him.”


There is something you don’t hear everyday – an 18-year-old seeking advice on business sponsorships.

Ahrash is as intense and passionate as you might imagine. Not only is he running a business, but at the time he was working on a research paper about why testing is not an effective way to prepare students for the real world. He’s a teenage business owner writing about how the education system hadn’t served him correctly.

After 20 minutes with him, I knew I had to get Ahrash on our website.

I’ll get out of the way to let Ahrash do the rest of the talking. Below is a short interview of him talking about his journey, his thoughts on testing, and why he thinks more schools should look like Blue Valley CAPS. If that is not enough to inspire you, scroll down to read his research paper.

Our youth are powerful. They have passions. They have a voice. Is your school empowering students to speak in this way?

The Effects of Academic and Standardized Testing on a Student

By Ahrash Karbasi

In today’s society students are being bombarded every day with test after test, resulting in grades going down, and in some cases, depression. There are many students sitting through an 8-hour school day learning things that they don’t want to because the school cannot offer a class to teach them what they want to learn, leading them to not try for tests and assessments. Because high-stakes academic and standardized tests fail to measure a student’s future academic potential or creativity and cause undue stress for students of all ages, academic and standardized testing should be eliminated as much as possible.

High stakes tests can be different for every student. For a student who is doing poorly in the class, it could mean that every test counts towards them graduating and passing the class. For someone that takes tests easily without the need to study, Finals, the ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams are probably the high stakes tests. People may wonder who makes these tests; why are they so hard, and why do they decide your future. Alfie Kohn explains in his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, that there are these so called “educational authorities” that have been given the right to create a test that decides ones future. However, those people did little to take into account the different: learning styles of students, skill levels, or even where they went to school. Kohn also explains in his book that students that are in a lower income based town are inherently going to be worse test takers and in turn more trouble makers. It is almost impossible for the “educational authorities” to take these multiple factors into consideration even though they should, after all, it is a test that decides the rest of your life. If the school system continues like this, with these standardized tests and college entrance exams, we will end up living in a society much like the society in The Giver. People will start taking tests and it will decide where they will be “placed”, like they have no choice at all, almost exactly The Giver portrays when they have young teens placed into their “correct job”, apparently fit for them.

There are multiple alternatives to the methods that we have now. Howard Gardner explains in his novel The Alternative to Standardized Testing that schools and testing methods should change to how most pre-industrial societies were like. They slowly integrated children and young teens (depending on skill level) to a hands on learning environment and gave them a learning figure based on not only what they were good at, but what they wanted to do as well. Gardner isn’t the only one talking about this. Khon and Gardner both talk about apprenticeship learning in their novels. Apprenticeship learning is a fancy term for saying hands on learning. It’s the more modern version of the pre-industrial integration/learning process for teens. Very few schools around the world give students an opportunity to do things like this. For example, Blue Valley CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies) does this almost perfectly. With the combination of connections, guidance, and tools, the students are able to not only have a more relaxed and comfortable environment to work in, but they also go off campus for research, meetings, learning sessions with mentors/sponsors. That combination gives an edge up in the real world for students that have the opportunity to do such things. They have basically been introduced to the work force, giving them insight on what they would like to do after high school or college. However, the only way they are going to get to any of those jobs is by passing all of those exams.

Some may think that testing isn’t bad at all. And personally I agree with that, most people do. Testing is a great way to set aside the prepared versus the unprepared. However that’s only in ideal conditions. There are multiple factors to take into consideration when looking at students test scores, from if they studied to just having a bad day or week during the testing period. I interviewed Nathan Robertson via email after listening to his presentation over Indigo at CAPS. Indigo’s main goal is “empowering students with non-academic assessment and analytics”. Meaning that they go around providing schools with a different method of testing. One that shows a student’s weaknesses and strengths. Robertson is working with his team to bring this to a national or even an international level, shifting the current regime of testing to a more modern version of placement testing. Even Robertson says, “Testing in itself is not inherently bad. It’s important to discover an objective metric by which to measure achievement. Where I think our education system is currently struggling is that tests such as the ACT or SAT do not account for the things that make us human. How do you account for creativity? How do you measure presenting skills on paper?” Just like Robertson said, there is no way the SAT or ACT can measure a students passion for a project, creativity, and certain skill sets. The only thing those tests can do is tell if a student is good at memorizing equations, viewing and analyzing charts, as well as working through a math problem. He goes on to explain how standardized tests have no way of proving one’s career success, or how they will act and live in the real world.

            Laura-Lee Kearns explains in her section within the “Canadian Journal of Education” that an improvement in test scores doesn’t always mean an improvement in learning. Just like Robertson said in my interview with him “… a school can prove they are ‘good’ if their ACT scores rise, or ‘exceptional’ if a certain percentage of students get over a 30.” Meaning that it’s just a false sensation of someone getting better. Sure they might get better at memorizing it, but did the student really learn that, and are they even going to remember it past high school, or college?

Students aren’t the only ones effected by this push for more testing. Stress is brought upon teachers as well. A student and teacher can only teach do so much when being lectured and pushed by his/her parents, administrators, peers, or even the media. That is exactly why “…standardized testing brought about a real sense that there was a lack of care and concern for their well-being and that of their peers.” (Kearns 118) School used to be people’s safe place, their go to when they had stress and just needed to focus on something they were passionate about. Teachers used to be the ones students went to for help, not only with school but life choices as well. Now all of that is just clouded up by the stress that the administrators push onto their teachers and students. “Some students not only expressed ‘shock’ and a lack of understanding at the test results, but some felt ‘shame,’ ‘degraded,’ “humiliated,’ ‘stressed,’ ‘a little less smart,’ ‘like a loser,’ and expressed ‘fear,’ upon learning that they had failed.” (Kearns 119) Those things that students think about themselves cause so much stress, sometimes so much that they cant handle it anymore, leading to increased dropout rates, depression, or even in worst cases, suicide, all things Kearns says in her study. The educational system is beginning to become corrupted and turning into the opposite of what it was meant to be.

Even many intelligent and very smart people have to deal with things like this all the time. I personally struggle with theses high stakes tests every day. My high school administrators will look at my ACT score and my GPA and deem me an “at risk” student (qtd. in Kearns 115) Meaning that I might not even pass or graduate, and that I certainly don’t have the potential in college or past that. However, they don’t look at the long lasting business that I have been working on for 2 years, one that has gotten me scholarship offers to schools that know my grades and ACT scores, and even gotten me money after the point where I started braking even. The school again, doesn’t take necessary things into consideration when they should. Nathan Robertson talked about how he too was affected by this for 19 years, trying to figure out why the educational system was like this and what he wanted to do with his future. He said, “I was a kid that didn’t fit the high school system. I had 30 on the ACT but only a 3.0 GPA. I was bored, restless and unable to see the value in my education.” And that’s exactly what brings students down, some that are even too accelerated for their classes become affected like Nathan was. That’s exactly why he started working at Indigo. He wanted “to help students make those type of discoveries about themselves when they are younger. The sooner you figure out what makes you tick and how you can be confident in that, the sooner you can go out into the world and do big things.” Assessments that Robertson and his team at Indigo create should be the new method of testing in today’s modern society.

Overall, testing isn’t a bad thing. And many anti-testing representatives agree with that. There is just a limit. There should be testing in the form of quizzes, unit tests, and maybe even finals. But to go as far as having a test such as the SAT or ACT decide the rest of your life for you, well that’s a line that shouldn’t have been crossed in the first place. After all, we don’t want to end up living in a society like The Giver.

Works Cited

Gardner, Howard. Evaluation in Education and Human Services. Vol. 30. Boston;

Dordrecht: S.n., 2000. Print.

Herman, Joan. The Effects of Testing on Teaching and Learning. Washington, D.C.:

Distributed by ERIC Clearinghouse, 1990. Print.

Kearns, Laura Lee. High-stakes Standardized Testing and Marginalized Youth: An

Examination of the Impact on Those Who Fail. Http:// St.

Francis Xavier University, 2011. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving beyond Traditional Classrooms

and “tougher Standards” Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Print.

Reddell, Samantha. High Stakes Testing: Our Children at Risk. Print.

Robertson, Nathan. “Re: CAPS Presentation” Message to the author. 2 Feb. 2016. E-mail.


Student Voice: Abram

Student Voice: Abram

April 12th 2016, Written by Nathan Robertson and Abram

When talking to skeptics of personalized learning, a common argument I hear is, “Well, the students don’t care. Why put in the effort when they won’t put in the effort?”

For those who hold to that argument, Abram disagrees with you.

We are constantly getting feedback from students after working with them. They feel empowered to make changes in their schools and to advocate for themselves. Abram decided to put his thoughts about his Indigo Report and education down on pen and paper. It’s a powerful example of what students can do when you give them an opportunity to speak. Student voice, student choice.

I’ll let Abram take it from here.

Hello my name is Abram and I am a sophomore at New Technology High School;. My definition of being successful in life varies from the social norm of simply getting rich and owning a lot of things, my definition of being successful is being happy and feeling fulfilled with you life. The Merriam-Webster secondary definition of success is the attainment of wealth and favor this definition is entirely subjective. Now what is my interpretation of this? My interpretation is that we value materials over personal relationships.  In a paper by Bill Mckibben he concludes that as our houses get bigger, our personal relationships become fewer. This is disturbing to me, how can we be so lonely but still want more? My question for the world is what’s the point of all of your hard work if you just want to spend it all on yourself. In The United States alone 53,000,000 million people face hunger, a large portion of this number being children.

I’m lucky to go to a new tech school because I can express myself more than kids at others. This is a hard fact to come to terms with since I don’t think I express myself and show my full potential. However I find it harder and harder to be truly happy and fulfilled with what I do as a student, as the “challenges” we are presented do not work our minds but simply require a google search or a calculator. Guidelines are getting stricter, lessening my ability to express myself through school. In one instance my teachers did this really neat simulation of what a school in the industrial revolution would be like, they referred to us by numbers and wore old timey clothing, and it was really interesting for me, but my classmate sitting next to me became angry as the figures of authority became stronger. This was an eye opener for me because it showed how it wasn’t just the older generation that prefered standard types of learning and routine. 

What I would like to see in education is small groups of equally talented individuals given a real world problem to solve by a teacher and solving it. My school has given us a few of these real world projects and in my school’s environmental studies class that I TA for they are doing exactly this, they planted oak trees at Skyline Park and helped with taking out invasive species of plants at the Oxbow flood overflow.  To add to the first part of that, I find that my teachers seem to disperse the more motivated students among the less motivated to take the brunt of the work from them. This is unfair to the more motivated, as it hinders them with what should be others responsibility. My favorite project I worked on was during my Freshman year. The project was to present a solution to a real world problem to our class. This was really interesting because we had to learn from others solutions and research, instead of just teaching about something that was already known about. For the final we presented a model of an easily constructible home for refugees. 

As you can see from my report I am not motivated by traditions. I do respect them but I disagree with many that have lost their relevance. For example the division of labour between men and women was useful when we were dropping like flies to disease and conflict, but in our modern world basic survival is not a thing that we need to worry so much about. The discrimination of women in the working world is unacceptable. One of my least favorite phrases is “It’s always been done this way” this saying drags us as a society down because it provides no other reason than it was relevant to people before me. Times change rapidly and relevant information of the past becomes quickly irrelevant. In my opinion this is not a basis to make a decision. I do realize how helpful it is to base our decisions off of prior knowledge but their is a difference in relevant and irrelevant prior knowledge.

Thank you for listening.


Highlighting Excellence: New Vista’s Success in Personalized Education

Highlighting Excellence: New Vista’s Success in Personalized Education

March 9th 2016, Written by Nathan Robertson

It’s not everyday you hear about high school students restoring a 1969 Pontiac Firebird.

This past fall Indigo Project, an education technology company headquartered in Niwot, Colorado, peered behind the curtain of New Vista High School to see what makes the school tick. Through this work, Indigo discovered a school that is excelling at personalized education. Based on the data insights, New Vista has cracked the code on how to connect with students. It’s leading to the development of skills such as empathy and creativity, an open and collaborative environment, and helping students nail down who they are and what they are passionate about in life.

Indigo’s data proves this. New Vista’s faculty have the highest Steadiness Behavior (calm, loyal, patient) of any high school Indigo has worked with in Colorado. Additionally their Empathy Skill is far above the average corporate adult, and they are also highly motivated by giving back and making an impact in their students’ lives (Social Motivator). These characteristics, identified by the Indigo Assessment, indicate New Vista’s environment is a nurturing and stable place for a school that is “designed to cultivate the unique talents, gifts, and interests” of students.

To understand what New Vista is doing right, a deep dive is necessary to see who are the students, who are the staff, and what things are administrators doing to help align students, staff and themselves together. Understanding how Indigo shed light on what New Vista’s process is and why that process works can launch larger conversations about what is the current state of other schools who are trying – and maybe struggling – to figure out who their students are and what the school culture is.

What if Test Scores Aren’t the Most Important Thing? 

Many schools today are focused on driving students toward the types of success that are easiest to measure. They would rather emphasize school-wide SAT scores and percentage of students going to a four-year university than evaluate how many students feel good about themselves and also feel prepared to pursue the future they want for themselves. It leaves out a lot of narratives about how schools are actually developing children as people. 

Enter New Vista High School: a school of about 300 students in the heart of Boulder, Colorado. New Vista is one of the schools that champions the idea of creating a safe, supportive and trusting environment for students. It’s not about cutthroat competition. It’s about an open, collaborative place where individual differences are respected and students are held to high standards for the betterment of the community. It’s a nurturing environment that is designed to develop students in all aspects of their life.

However, this leads to a dilemma. How does a school like New Vista display these qualities to potential students and their families? How do they advocate for the model in a concrete way? What if test scores aren’t the most important thing to measure?

New Vista, an Overview

New Vista opened its doors in 1993. For more than 20 years, they have been providing an alternative education experience to students who do not thrive under traditional models.

“One of the things we do really well here at New Vista is focus on the whole student through individualized instruction,” Principal Kirk Quitter said. “ Ultimately, our aim is to meet students where they are and give them what they need to be more successful.” 

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As soon as you walk into New Vista, you can feel that the school is personalized for its students. The New Vista community is creative, and student artwork is all over the walls. The students are also environmentally conscious, with posters on the wall announcing meetings for groups like Earth Task Force and classes such as Community Adventure Program, a quarter-long outdoor course that focuses on survival skills and how to reduce your eco-footprint. This is not a one-size-fits-all model, but a school that is clearly honing in on how to best fit the students that are coming through their doors.

In the spirit of a collaborative culture, classes are not separated by age. Instead, all classes have a variety of students from freshmen to seniors. It breaks down walls that sometimes occur when grades are isolated in their own cohorts. The result is a strong community where 14-year-olds and 18-year-olds are interacting in the same room and learning together.

This community is not just internally focused however. Once a week students can go out and engage with their city in Community Experiences. CEs can take many forms, ranging from professional experiences like working in a local architecture firm to partnering with nonprofits in the community. Regardless of form, students are going outside of their schools and advocating for themselves in roles and responsibilities with real organizations. This builds a sense of autonomy, independence and confidence that is critical for the development of our youth.

New Vista brings all these unique experiences to head with their Culminating Projects. The projects are senior capstones a la personalized learning – students complete an original, rigorous piece of work that is relevant or of great interest to them based on who they are. It dovetails the intensity of a traditional capstone with the individualized streak of the student. With a community like New Vista, projects stay wide, varied and original; some past examples include ecological studies in Tasmania, interning at a school for autistic children, and restoring a 1969 Pontiac Firebird. 

New Vista is a community based on the individual. It stresses individual discovery and provides opportunities to explore passions through a variety of projects and experiences. It also provides a collaborative space where all these individuals can engage in respectful dialogue with each other regardless of age. In terms of a school-student fit, New Vista fits its students like a glove fits a hand.


New Vista through the Lens of Indigo

This fall, the Indigo team worked with all the students and faculty at New Vista. Here’s some of the key insights on how the school is shaping students that the Indigo Assessment revealed.


A Steady Staff

One of the areas the Indigo Assessment measures is Behaviors – how people communicate or “show up” in a room. One of the Behaviors measured is Steadiness: it embodies consistency, patience, loyalty, and how nurturing an individual is capable of being. When looking at the staff at New Vista, teachers showed up nearly two standard deviations higher than the average adult in Steadiness. This is the highest Indigo has seen in any school.

What does this say about the school? It says they are doing a good job at hiring. If the school is truly focused on individualized education and growing students in a holistic way, that requires a lot of additional time from teachers to form one-to-one relationships with students and invest additional time in each person. It requires patience, understanding, and a non-aggressive demeanor. With a staff this high in Steadiness, this team of teachers will constantly be thinking about how they can help provide the right environment for their students – and it shows. Teachers want outside guests and speakers to understand who their students are and what the culture is before they come because they want to make sure anyone working with their students provides a personalized experience fit to them.

They don’t do it because of rules or compliance. They do it because they care that much about the students.


A Creative and Empathetic Student Population

 Another area the assessment measures is Motivators – what drives a person, how they prioritize things in life. It measures between six different motivators. One of the motivators is Aesthetic: it embodies a desire for balance and harmony, and typically underscores a desire for some sort of creative or artistic outlet. Looking at the seniors, 50 percent of students indicated that Aesthetic was their number one Motivator.

Remember when I said there was artwork all over the school walls? That wasn’t some school program that forced students to paint – students there are looking for an artistic outlet. The fact that the school is hanging up their artwork everywhere just means that the school is listening.

As a result, when looking at students’ top 21st Century Skills on the test both Creativity and Empathy show up as top skills. Confidence in these skills are a direct result of being in an aesthetic, steady school built around student preferences.


A School that is Addressing Social Emotional Issues

The fourth and final section measured on the test is Social Emotional Health – measuring how people view both internal and external elements of who they are and the world around them. At Indigo, we typically see most schools have about 30 percent of their population showing up on the “Blue List” of students that may need additional social emotional support.

At New Vista, however, we see an interesting trend. While the school is known for attracting students that need social emotional help, the school is showing that the percentage of students in each grade that needs additional support is dropping marginally each passing year as they get older. The school is aware that its students need the additional support, and the test shows that they are doing things to help students that are working. 


New Vista’s model is different than the other schools in its district. It has an environmental emphasis and cares deeply about the state of its student community. It gives students a lot of flexibility to pursue their own path and passions. The assessment puts concrete numbers behind their culture. They are a school with an incredibly steady staff. Their students are developing skills they wouldn’t be developing at any traditional school in the district. On top of all that, students are finding closure in their emotional struggles as they begin to feel more and more confident and empowered to go into the future.

In other words, New Vista is a model that excels at their mission, and they now have scores to show that.

So what’s next? New Vista will begin integrating curriculum around Indigo into their advisories. Additionally, counselors are beginning to use Indigo in one-on-one advising with students. More than anything, Quitter says it brings a lingua franca into the school to talk about the different attributes that make people who they are.

“The results mean a greater opportunity to serve the needs of our kids, and bringing that common language into our community is huge,” Quitter said. “This process has had some big ripple effects from the classroom, into the advisory level and out into the community amongst parents.”

It is our hope those ripples will continue to grow in starting conversations between students, parents and teachers about how to connect with students and help them find a college and career future that fits who they are.

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