Our school comes to life every day with students and staff, educational programs, and services. The people involved in and responsible for schooling—the teachers, administrators, clerical and maintenance staff, parents, students, and members of the community—have the greatest influence on the nature and quality of education. The educational programs—the curricula, standards, materials, training, and services available to the students—are also critical. But the school building itself—the place where the people and programs converge—can either support quality education or obstruct it.
Thinking about our long standing tradition of academic excellence at St. John’s, it is time for our school facilities to move in a direction that is reflective of the future academic environment. I am excited to share our Fund-A-Need for this year’s Spring Auction; it is a multiple part plan to update and utilize our facility’s space.
We have identified a need for a library at our school, specifically targeted at our early childhood years (PK-2nd). Our first thought was to build a school library in the basement of our gym. After extensive research and meetings with architects and engineers, we are unable to put a PK-2nd library in the basement of the gym due to building code restrictions on points of exits for small children. While this was a disappointment, the excitement and need to create an early childhood library still remained. Looking at our school building and the underutilized space, we discovered that the loft area by second grade would make a wonderful location for an early childhood library. We can enclose the loft area and design the space specifically for a PK-2nd library which will include book bins, a read aloud area, picture books, as well as create a wonderful space for exploring the world of literature. Please reference all visuals for our design concepts.
While the plan to use the basement as a library was not a viable option, finishing the basement of the gym for our growing school became a part of the vision. It is a perfect space to add technology enhanced classrooms, a state of the art science lab, and create a collaborative space for teachers and students to meet without interruption or distraction.
Collaborative Spaces in Instructional Settings
What we have in mind is to build a collaborative setting that includes all areas of the school. Specifically, we want to design the gym basement to provide spaces that offer areas for independent learning, one-to-one learning, small group learning, and large group meetings in which the entire class comes together. For example, an instructional space that supports 15-25 learners can allow for collaborative settings by arranging fixed elements (desks and chairs) along with unfixed features and furniture (discussion tables, standing desks). If the entire class is working in small groups of four or five learners, we would like the space to provide areas that could support five to seven activity settings. Having these areas with the flexibility to change would efficiently support the students with a variety of learning needs.
Technology as a Catalyst for Learning
Technology can help support a range of social groupings, but a singular technology, such as an interactive whiteboard, has its limitations. An interactive whiteboard is typically used for large group lessons where the teacher or sometimes a student presents information. Newer technologies (one-to-one Chromebooks, laptops, tablets) allow for more than one simultaneous user, encouraging small-group, and collaborative learning. Older classrooms are limited to deal with these new technology tools. If we could add built in storage, charging stations, and digital printing stations in every classroom, teachers and students will be able to use technology more efficiently and consistently.
State of the Art Science Classroom
Science teaching has changed significantly in the past five years or so. Once the teacher lectured to students; now the teacher is a facilitator who suggests problems to students and encourages them in ways to use the scientific method to solve these problems. A significant portion of the science curriculum is moving toward inquiry based, and the facilities provided to serve this curriculum must support this approach. A well-designed school science lab inspires student creativity and innovation. By building a state of the art science lab, our school could effectively integrate technology into the science classroom. A multi-discipline lab supports the latest in computer technology, classroom lecture, science labs, and adaptability features for group work (meetings stations, discussion tables). A multi-discipline lab is accessible from all sides of the classroom and includes island desks with a projection screen or SMART board. Multidiscipline labs also provide spacious work surfaces, molded epoxy resin countertops, and sinks. This multi-discipline lab equipment works well in a combination lab and lecture setting, and it comes with adjustable height work surfaces and optional privacy panels for test administration. Gas is the thing of the past in science classrooms; new hotplate designs are small, draw relatively little electrical current, and are quick to heat and then cool off after use. Safety standards like a safety shower and eyewash unit will also be included. Adding proper storage to a new science lab will help to maintain needed supplies and equipment for experiments.
Finishing the gym basement will take vision, time, and work, but cost projections for such a massive undertaking are within reach of our community. Cost estimates at this point in time are that the project will take a year to complete and cost about $400,000. This includes everything—necessities like bathrooms, sound proofing, communication installations, etc. We can keep costs down by working with contacts in our St. John’s community and in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Denver. The gym basement would be available for use in the 2018-2019 school year. The PK-2 early childhood library would be completed this summer, and be ready for the 2017-2018 school year starting in August. If we commit funds from this year and next year’s Fund-A-Need at our annual spring auction, as well as the 2017 proceeds from the Fall Fun Festival, I believe this goal is well within reach.
I know this is a very brief look at all we want to do with this project; I could write ten more pages about all of the details. If you have questions or would like to discuss things more in-depth, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I welcome any dialogue that will help improve our school facilities as we look toward the future. As always thank you for your continued support and generosity towards our school. The future of St. John’s has never looked so bright.
Building Committee: Mark Ward, Brad Schlepp, Cecilia Jacoby, and Dave Egan