The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 10, 2014

Our View: Schools for the future come full circle

New schools opening this week in Joplin and Baxter Springs, Kan., have the look and feel of the future.

Open spaces, atriums, access to outdoor classrooms, bright colors and even artwork greeted students and teachers at the new Baxter Springs Middle School on Wednesday and Joplin’s Irving and Soaring Heights elementary schools, and East Middle School on Thursday.

These schools have a look unlike others before them. Those rows of little desks all facing a chalkboard are a thing of the past. Classrooms can collaborate, and walls can collapse when more space is needed. Teachers share resources, and students waste less time moving between classes.

Yes, the look is different and might even make some of us adults uncomfortable as we compare these new schools with our own.

The approach? Well, it’s not so different from that used in one-room schools where eight different grades were taught in one big classroom and collaboration between grade levels was expected.

For example, each of the new schools has some sort of outdoor classroom or learning environment. Teachers in those rural schools often held classes outdoors under the shade of a tree.

At both of Joplin’s new elementary schools, students who sail through their work without a hitch will be encouraged to work on other projects in areas just off the classroom but still visible to the teacher. Not too much unlike the days when students who learned quickly sat in with those in a grade level just above theirs.

As for all the natural light supplied via the big windows in the new classrooms, consider the one-room schools with the high ceilings and big windows. Overhead lights were necessary only on a cloudy day.

School buildings will and should change because education will and should change. But some of the fundamentals used in these new schools are as traditional as the ones used in the schools where our grandparents were taught. Now they’ve come full circle.

One thing that definitely has changed is that all those school buildings have safe rooms or shelters that meet Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.

Schools should be fun, exciting, safe places for learning to take place, no matter what they look like.

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