by Dennis Dalman
Piece by piece, a long-range vision of education in the Sartell-St. Stephen School District is coming into focus, thanks to the brainstorming efforts of many committee members and public participants.
A series of nine workshops/meetings led by the Community Schools Planning Committee is now underway through Oct. 28. At the March meeting, participants offered hundreds of suggestions of what they would like education to become for the next 10 to 30 years.
Residents are encouraged to attend the meetings. The next one will take place at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 8 at Sartell Middle School. It will involve a detailed tour of all of the five school buildings in the city: the high school, middle school, two elementary schools and the District Service Building.
Future workshops/meetings, all of them at Sartell Middle School, will take place from 4-8 p.m. on the following Wednesdays: April 8 and 15, May 6 and 13, Sept. 16 and 23 and Oct. 28.
When all the meetings have taken place, the committee will formulate recommendations and present them to the school board in autumn 2015.
The March 18 workshop was a brainstorming session at which all participants were asked to write down their responses to the prompting phrase of: “I believe our facilities should . . . “
The responses, when collected and organized in categories, show that participants (stakeholders, as they’re called) want school facilities that are flexible in use, safe and secure, open to the community and interactive with all other community forces (such as business, industry, city government, the arts and more).
Buildings and the amenities in them should be designed to be environmentally compatible, energy-efficient and with green spaces. Facilities should be pleasing to the eye, places people will want to be.
They should be state-of-the-art in technology and learning methods, with lots of hands-on learning, lots of interdisciplinary subjects and structured so a great diversity of learning is encouraged. Academics, sports and arts must all be given honored places. Common spaces should encourage students to mingle and to learn from one another in at atmosphere of acceptance and respect.
Community involvement by teachers and students should be emphasized, and vice versa, with other groups and businesses in the city collaborating with the schools.
In the meantime, a “prudent” use of existing facilities must be emphasized, with full accountability to the taxpayers.
The educational process must be innovative and creative, constantly in touch with the ever-changing realities of the next half century.
One quote shared by the participants at the workshop was from visionary Buckminster Fuller: “The best way to predict the future is to design it.”
At the March 18 workshop, participants watched a 15-minute video called High-Tech High, a brief introduction to an innovative widely praised school in San Diego that has been hailed by the likes of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, as well as many educators worldwide.
At High-Tech High, there are no forms of segregation whatsoever by class, race, income levels or abilities. The school was designed with large open spaces with lots of huge glass windows so all spaces (and functions) interrelate.
The school is a hands-on school in which projects become the focus of learning experiences. Such projects include robotics, carpentry, metals, ergonomics, blueprinting, paintings and sculpture, to name just some. Through such hands-on work, students can see and feel what they are doing and what they are learning, and how it relates to the real world of adults. They see constantly the tangible results of their learning process.
The man who founded High-Tech High said students can study the world through almost any particular project. He himself did that via carpentry.
The theory of learning in the school is that almost everything can be learned from doing specific projects – things that don’t necessarily have to do specifically with that project – for example, learning spatial relationships and math formulas when doing an art painting.
The school is comprised of 538 students, and the atmosphere is busy, very interactive with students coming and going, but it’s not hectic. The students are treated as adults and, thus, they act like responsible adults with courtesy and respect for one another.
There is constant research based on input from students and teachers about what works best in the process of teaching and learning.
Some of the students chosen for the school were formerly bored in their other schools, and their grades were sagging badly. At High-Tech High, students love to come to school and former D students are now excelling, earning As and Bs.
The following is the vision statement devised by the Sartell-St. Stephen Community Schools Planning Committee:
“We see flexible, sustainable and safe facilities that support and encourage multi-faceted, leading-edge opportunities for our students and community. They will build upon the success and excellence for which our school district is known. These facilities integrate technology seamlessly and foster creativity. They will include state-of-the-art venues for academics, athletics and the arts for our schools and community. The goal is to create an environment where staff and students are inspired to learn in their own diverse way.”