Learning the key to STS expansion
Education: Elementary grades, the arts targetted in $24-million project
Wednesday, Jan 24, 2018 06:00 am
Usually, a Grade 6 student can’t wait to get to junior high school.
However, when Kelly Schneider spent his first day at the new elementary school wing at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS) on Jan. 16, maybe he’s not quite so anxious to make that jump to Grade 7.
“I thought it was pretty amazing,” Schneider said, after seeing the wing for the first time. “It’s a lot more colourful, welcoming and open. I like all the light and the collaboration space. We don’t really have separate classrooms anymore — we all kind of share the same space.”
Space, interaction, stimulation and learning were all aspects when STS administrators first thought of expanding the private school just west of Okotoks.
“It’s pretty gratifying to see it all come together,” said STS head of school Dr. Bill Jones. “I was recalling about sitting in a meeting about 10 years ago wondering what are we going to do to revitalize and develop the campus over the perceivable future.
“To flash by that 10 years and see the smiles on the faces of the parents and the students is pretty brilliant.”
The $24-milion expansion is 65,000 square feet, which was added to the existing facilities on the school’s scenic 220-acre campus.
“Right from the beginning we always said the building will be driven for teaching and learning, it’s not about a shiny new building,” Jones said. “There is learning happening everywhere. And, it’s differentiated learning, different groups are doing different learning activities in the same class because they have different kind of spaces to do things.”
The teaching staff has received about two years of professional development to get ready for the expansion.
“We didn’t want to take for granted that you flick a switch and they go from the old traditional space to this and some kind of magic happens,” Jones said.
“The most astonishing thing for me today was to walk into the building — which is so different from our old traditional building — and within an hour seeing kids doing all kinds of things in all different spaces.
“Every space was being utilized immediately.”
Jones, whose wife is a talented artist and he is a person who appreciates jazz and other music, is thrilled with the new fine and performing arts spaces.
“I have a place in my heart for the fine and performing arts for sure,” Jones said. “Those facilities are a major upgrade in response to those programs have grown so much.”
The arts area of the expansion is mostly for Grade 7 to 12 students and it includes acoustically optimized band and choral rooms, a drama room, individual rehearsal rooms for students and larger visual arts spaces that will allow students to work on projects over time.
Brianna Dawe, STS fine arts curriculum leader, got another Christmas with the opening of the new performing arts spaces.
“This is going to transform the way we teach and learn in the arts,” Dawe said. “It allows us to be collaborative — to integrate arts learning between subject matters. It used to be if you taught drama it was always in the drama area and you only taught drama. Now with all the spaces being connected and having the common areas we can bring music and drama students together.”
Students used to have to find any cubby hole they could to practice their lines, instruments, or sing — some literally were practicing in closets, according to Dawe.
“Now we have practice rooms so students can develop expertise in their individual arts,” she said.
They will also have a new place to perform besides the school’s existing performing arts theatre.
At the entrance of the new expansion is the spectacular gathering staircase. The staircase looks down into a giant picture window with the gorgeous foothills as the spectators’ backdrops.
“This seats about 200 people and we will be doing concerts for smaller groups,” said Lara Unsworth, STS communications director. “Speaker series, those kind of things.”
The staircase is where the grand opening for the expansion will be held on Feb. 23.
The entire $24-milion for the expansion was donor-funded by the STS community (parents, alumni, friends), many of whom are business and community leaders.