School redesign underway with entrance, math lab, office

Jordan Gerard/SGH The location of the library will remain the same but this wall will have a new look. Large windows will be in place of the painted cement blocks. The library will also have new furniture that’s suited to comfortable reading spaces.
By : 
Jordan Gerard

The hammer was thrown last week, July 10, as the redesign for the school office, math lab, library and main entrance were underway.

The plan comes as part of making it easier to find the main entrance for newcomers (there’s four doors at the front of the building), and creating a new space for students to learn math.

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

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.

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.

Spring Grove school officials met with two architects from Fielding Nair International in April, 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, which 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.

Those wishes will be reality this year as the board approved $20,819.50 worth of flexible furniture from Steelcase Inc. and Schimdt Goodman Office Products, Inc. 

Superintendent Rachel Udstuen and second grade teacher Matt Rosaaen wrote a grant to get flexible furniture, but it was not awarded to the school. 

However, the furniture is being bought with a 75 percent discount and will be covered by the Bush Foundation Individualized Learning Initiative grant awarded to Spring Grove.

Included in new furniture are high and low tables, each with stools or chairs; new desks on wheels and with movable desktops; and couches that will be placed in the upper hallway. Some of the furniture will also go to Rosaaen’s classroom, as a thank you for helping write the grant.

“At the end of the day it’s a really good deal and a good use of capital dollars,” Udstuen said. “We’ll be able to use it for a long time.”

The school has also received a Bush Foundation grant for $150,000 to use for individualized learning.

“We want to envision beyond something beyond the traditional way of learning,” board member Thomas Trehus said at a previous board meeting. “We want to transition from kids in desks force fed information to personalized learning. For some kids that works, but for others it does not.”

Examples of individualized learning are passion projects, as Erin Becker’s fourth grade class did this year; self-paced curriculum, project-based learning, flexible learning spaces and real world learning opportunities.

Teachers Kelsey Morken and Rosaaen have taken the challenge head on.

“It will look very different to people,” Rosaaen said. “Students create a plan of their own that works for them.”

Morken agreed and said with individualized learning, teachers will not plan their day for them. That will help students with time management and schedules in the future.

Solum asked how do teachers know when the students are ready to move on. Rosaaen said standards based grading helps with that. 

Standards based grading is different from traditional grading, which is based on assessments such as quizzes, tests, homework and projects. 

Selected assessments, such as tests, quizzes and projects are used for grading purposes, versus every assignment receiving a grade.

Standards based grading is based on learning goals and performance standards. The criteria and learning targets are made available to students ahead of time.

No penalties or extra credit is given. It also measures achievement only or separates achievement from effort or behavior.

Standards-based grading also emphasizes the most recent evidence of learning instead of recording the best average of the work submitted.

“The idea is for students to show teachers where they’re at,” Rosaaen said. “Kids can make flash cards or make a worksheet for math class. It gives them the freedom to pick, ‘How are you going to show me this?’”

Morken also said if students finish the coursework, they can dive deeper into areas that they are genuinely interested in. They can also show a different way of their understanding or become a peer tutor.

“We’re not the dispensers of information anymore,” Morken said. “We share some things with them, but their information is in their hands, they can get it. We help them apply that information or piece it together.”

Morken added it’s helping them prepare for college choices within parameters. 

The change to individualized learning will happen gradually, Udstuen said. 

This learning style may also allow students to have more time available to study for tests or work on other school projects.

“Students are still accountable for their time,” Morken said. “We need to let them learn the consequences and let them fail when it’s not that big of stakes.”

Teacher Chris Deck added it’s important for kids to see the different types of teaching and to work through the frustrations of both types.

Look for more construction updates in future editions of the Herald.