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School Stories

Gates Endowment Inspires 20 Years of Innovation

On December 19, 1998, Graland alumnus Charles C. Gates, Jr. ‘34 presented the school with a $1 million gift to establish the Gates Innovative Invention Science Competition. Initiated to nurture and support creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit in elementary school students, this unique program came to Graland five years after Gates established the Grubstake Fund at California Institute of Technology. The Grubstake Fund was designed to assist faculty members who have a technology that may be commercially viable by providing funding to advance promising projects to the prototype or proof-of-concept stage. 
“Five years later, Dad said ‘it’s almost too late,’” shared Diane Gates ‘69 Wallach, daughter of the late Charlie Gates. “He said, ‘Third graders may be more creative than grown-ups. We have to get them starting to think like business people at an earlier age.’” Recognizing Graland as a much more experiential school than others, Mr. Gates approached the school with his idea to start an invention competition. The school responded with an emphatic “yes” immediately.
Expanding the Vision
Ten years later, in 2009, Mrs. Wallach introduced another school to the Gates Program, Cardigan Mountain School, an all-boys boarding school in New Hampshire. “Cardigan is a more traditional school than Graland, however, I recognized the need for boys to tinker,” she said.

Cardigan is now in its 10th year and celebrating this milestone with a new lab inspired by conversations with Martin Twarogowski and Andy Dodge, co-director of the Gates program at Graland. “I was so pleased to have Graland be involved in sharing its learning and success with Cardigan,” said Mrs. Wallach.

The Power of Endowments
The decision to endow the Gates program was a thoughtful and intentional one. “We wanted to ensure that money would always be there for the program and its leaders. We did not want the coaches worrying about funding or the program’s existence year-to-year. We wanted them to focus on the students and their work,” Mrs. Wallach explained. 

In the 20 years since the inception of the Gates program, the Gates Family has made additional contributions to Graland, most significantly during the school’s recent ASCEND campaign. Beyond the funding of the program itself, the family expanded its support with the creation of the Charles C. Gates Director of Innovative Learning, currently filled by Mr. Twarogowski. “We are so happy to have helped Graland create this position and to have endowed it to protect it,” said Mrs. Wallach. “This position is a total gift to Graland.”

Pride in Program Philosophy
Reflecting on the past 20 years of the Gates program here at Graland, Mrs. Wallach is proud not only of the program’s individual success, but even more so in its effect on the overall “way of thinking” for Graland students. 
“Dad always believed that real innovative thinking was a critical life skill. He said that Graland was the best education he ever had - more than any higher education or graduate program in which he was involved. The Gates program allows students to roll up their sleeves and ‘just do it,’ not to simply talk about problems and issues,” she shared. 

“I believe our hidden goal was always to have this way of thinking permeate the whole school. The Gates program is simply a tool, a vehicle for offering students an opportunity to dream, create, test and refine their problem-solving skills. We are so proud to see how that concept has been promoted and infused throughout all classrooms and grades at Graland.”

Graland Gratitude
As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Gates Innovation and Invention Program, the entire Graland Country Day School community extends its deepest gratitude to the Gates Family for its vision and for providing a lasting legacy to support student creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit. 

Special thanks to Diane Gates ‘69 Wallach for sharing her time, memories and perspective for the creation of this article.

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.