Back-to-school looked quite a bit different this week for nearly 600 students in the Spring Lake Park School District. Where you might expect to find rows of desks and chairs, instead there were padded stools, seats that wobble and curvy settees. There was also a noticeable lack of walls.
The newly-built Centerview Elementary School in Blaine breaks the traditional school mold.
“I think parents and students have been awestruck,” said Centerview Principal Mike Callahan.
Callahan helped design the new school. Inspired by the cross-section of an agate, Centerview has a circular, open design. Scattered throughout the building is soft, flexible seating. "Learning studios," where walls are optional, replace traditional classrooms.
Principal Callahan said Spring Lake Park School District wants to grow strong learners in a fresh way. A way that adapts to a changing world.
“To really do it in a way that is not 2-by-4-by-6, meaning two sides of a book, four walls of a classroom, six periods a day. We really want to create a schedule that's flexible, that's fluid.”
Each learning studio has defined spaces for learning, with movable panels in between that travel along a track across the ceiling. These “Nano walls" offer the option for smaller more private space when needed. Behind sliding glass panels there are also STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) kitchenettes for each grade level. The space is designed for learning to get messy and students to get away from a desk.
“Make a choice of where they like to learn best,” said Callahan, “how they like to share information, how they like to sit. I don't think there are any kids who sat at a desk over the summer.”
During a visit to the first grade learning studio, students from several classes gathered together seamlessly for team teaching. First grade teacher, Krystal Levang, is loving her new school home.
“My favorite thing so far is, in general, the openness,” she said.
“I think we want our teaching to kind of explode out! And so it's been fun just to have the walls open and piggyback ideas off other teachers and learn from each other. I think that's really exciting.”
As an alternative to a more traditional school media center or library, the design team opted for a “learning commons” at Centerview. Wide, sweeping wood risers - scattered with colorful seat cushions - offer a place to sit and congregate. Opposite the learning stairs, a “learning stage” is outfitted with a multiscreen television where students and staff can give presentations. The principal envisions Centerview students giving a series of TED talks.
Beyond the fresh paint and new furniture, Callahan said the district has a similar forward-thinking approach in each of its schools.
“So it's really being able to work in an interdisciplinary way, where we're not just looking at content areas in isolation, we're really looking at content and bringing it to life.”
Jennifer Anderson reporting