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Ed Guide 2010: Features 

Imagination Celebration partnerships

What do you get with a 10-foot penguin, a sled and a tent used by actual explorers? Well, add a little imagination and you've got a great way to learn about the Antarctic.

"We wanted to show the kids that they could encounter cool learning experiences anywhere," says Deborah Thornton, executive director of Imagination Celebration, of the camp her staff set up inside its headquarters in the Citadel Mall.

For almost 25 years, Imagination Celebration has worked to inspire artistic and intellectual curiosity through innovative hands-on learning in Colorado Springs. "It's essential to engage people in experiencing various forms of imagination," Thornton says, "because it's part of what gives us a fuller life experience."

Along with their community activities and elementary program in District 20, Thornton and Co. work with local school districts in different ways. They help identify subject areas that need work and match them to available resources in the community. They bring in working artists. They help kids learn history by creating plays about it, or chemistry formulas by writing jingles.

And they work with the largest schools to the smallest. For instance, the six students from the Little School on Vermijo helped usher more than 3,300 other kids into a local performance to open Imagination Celebration's newest Over the Moon Family Theatre Season.

"Whether someone has a child or not, it's something that has to be really important to all of us," says Thornton. "We all need to be caring about our education system because it's what creates our employees and staffs our hospitals."

The 'Good Food Project'

Rick Hughes, director of Food and Nutrition Services for District 11, has already made serious progress toward removing highly processed foods from school menus by January 2012. The goal is to replace them with what Hughes simply calls "good food" — which spans the common "whole grains, fresh fruit and no growth hormones" to the less common "free of artificial dyes" and "minimal packaging." Feeding students good food will not only raise student achievement, he says, but it will also have an impact on health care systems.

Hughes hired an executive chef and has been working with companies including Ranch Foods Direct, the small, community-oriented natural meat purveyor, to provide high-quality foods to the students. Ranch Foods' all-natural beef, distributed first in the high schools, this year now goes to all the schools in the district.

"It's very powerful," Hughes says of his mission. "We're serving a better product to our kids, and when they purchase a meal, the comments have been really good."

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