Superintendent Rachel Udstuen talks to Randy Fielding and Huichong Tang of Fielding Nair International about remodeling school spaces for flexible learning and collaborative teaching.
JORDAN GERARD/SGH Superintendent Rachel Udstuen talks to Randy Fielding and Huichong Tang of Fielding Nair International about remodeling school spaces for flexible learning and collaborative teaching.
The process is underway for remodeling the main entrance, two large classrooms and two bathrooms after Spring Grove school officials met with two architects from Fielding Nair International, who said Spring Grove fosters a strong sense of community for their students.

“We’ve had terrific days here and saw some amazing things,” Randy Fielding of the Minneapolis-based company said. “The biggest strength and asset here is a sense of community and kindness. You’ve already got what we’re trying to build in other places.”

During the visit, Fielding and Huichong Tang talked to teachers, administration and students about what types of learning spaces they would like.

Examples like two classrooms that can be split by a glass wall or movable wall allows teachers across different subjects and grades to collaborate their two classes.

Students were particularly interested in flexible furniture for small groups, reading, studying and “cave spaces,” where they can read or study alone away from distractions.

Many of the ideas from the visit resulted from the school’s overarching project of individualized learning, such as the ALEKS computerized math program.

In ALEKS, students move at their own pace through the lessons and seek help from their teacher when needed. Math teachers have reported an attitude change in students toward math and improvement in grades.

Another individualized learning class has been the Makerspace class, taught by Karen Tisthammer.

A grant was awarded to the school from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), which allows students to explore hands-on learning, such as making fishing rods, study veterinarian science, woodworking, 3-D printing and much more.

Students said they enjoy individualized learning. It allows them to have extra study time before a test or work on other projects as long as they complete their work for other teachers on time.

Perhaps the most benefit was from the architects’ opinion of moving the administration offices to the former computer lab area (now the math lab) and the math lab area to the current administration office spaces.

On the exterior, the main idea is to draw people’s eye to the main entrance of the school, which would be the corner of Highway 44 and 2nd Ave NW. The secondary idea is to let the community and visitors know the school is a large part of the community.

“You have values about the community, not just inside, but how the building relates to the community,” Fielding said.

The school board approved publishing a call for bids to get that project done this summer. One more reason to relocate the administration offices is for safety.

“We want people to go through us before they get to the students,” Superintendent Rachel Udstuen said.

The estimate for that project is $180,000, which the school board hoped would be covered under their Long-Term Facilities Maintenance fund. Approval is needed from the Minnesota Department of Education.

Not only will the entrance relocation improve safety, but also handicap accessibility. Those who use the handicap entrance now (on 1st St. NW) must traverse two long hallways of the school to reach the office.

Kimball agreed and said when he first came to the school for his interview, he wasn’t sure if he should go up or down the stairs to find the office.

Other plans from the architects could be done further down the road, but they encouraged the school to start with a few smaller items now, such as flexible furniture and learning spaces.

In the student session, kids from second, fifth, eighth and tenth grades gave their input. Things like tiered seating areas (like a college setting), soft seating like bean bag chairs for reading, different table and chair heights and more natural light would be beneficial to students.

Students also want independent study areas away from noise, which would benefit for reading or studying for a test.

A few teachers already have flexible furniture instead of the traditional desks. Fifth-grade teacher Kelsey Morken has high tables and chairs for her students. This allows some students to sit while others can stand while learning or working together.

Students also said they’d like to see more colors in their classrooms and hallways. More ideas include trading in whiteboards for whiteboard paint on walls. That type of paint can be washed off easily and would save money on whiteboard markers throughout the year.

Tenth grade students were especially excited about the new furniture possibilities and if it would happen before they graduate.

“It’s powerful to hear them talk about it,” Udstuen said. “They love the conversation.”

It is possible, as the school district also received a Bush Foundation grant for flexible learning furniture.

Since many students’ parents and older relatives attended school at Spring Grove, the board wants to keep the community informed, Principal Nancy Gulbranson said.

“The community is integral in trusting us,” she said. “They trust us to say, ‘What type of learners do we need to raise?’”

The school also hoped to host events for the community to come in and see what changes are taking place.

The changes will also benefit future students, such as the class of 2031, who will start kindergarten next year.

One of the more difficult spaces in school is the cafeteria, which is used for students’ lunchtime, play rehearsals and community activities. Unfortunately, the area does not receive a lot of natural sunlight, which was a big need and want of students and teachers.

That space could be made more welcoming by changing the color scheme and installing warm, soft lighting, Udstuen said.

“We want it to be a desirable space to be in,” she said. “It can also be one of our flexible spaces.”

The ideas listed above and more that come from the architects, school officials and students would likely increase enrollment, Fielding said.

“You wouldn’t have to add a major addition on because you already created the fluidity of spaces,” he said. “You’ll have more space.”