Esteban Clark-Braendle was so excited about the opening of the newly expanded Grand Rapids Public Museum School, he filmed the ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the $4.5 million renovation of the museum’s fourth floor. Which made perfect sense, since the seventh-grader would like to be a filmmaker after graduating from what will eventually be the Museum School’s high school.
“I love that it’s a school in a museum,” Esteban said as he set up his tripod. “You have all these resources at your fingertips” — including not just the museum itself, he noted, but school partners like Kendall College of Art and Design and Grand Valley State University.
“It’s not just the classroom anymore,” Esteban told a packed gathering of students, parents and educators at the Public Museum, 272 Pearl St. NW. “It’s the city. The city is your classroom.”
That’s a foundational concept of the Museum School as it enters its second year, adding 60 seventh-graders to the 60 sixth-graders of its inaugural year. By moving up to the fourth floor, former museum office space, the school will be able to accommodate 180 students in grades 6-8 as it adds a grade each year.
The new classroom, office and kitchen space, accessed by a newly constructed stairwell, is phase one of a $14.5 million investment in the Museum School. GRPS purchased the former public museum at 54 Jefferson Ave. SE to be remodeled as a high school. Only $2 million will come from the district’s $175 million bond issue approved last year; the remainder will be covered by a capital campaign.
The new fourth-floor facility “illustrates our effort to rethink school from the ground up,” offering flexible workspace and “seamless” technology, said Principal Christopher Hanks. “A student could walk down to the museum, take a video of themselves explaining an exhibit, bring it back, Airplay it to the classroom’s big screen, and share with the whole class.”
Superintendent Teresa Weatherall-Neal hailed the school as a historic collaborative effort between GRPS and the museum, city and other community partners. She noted the idea originated in conversations between school board President Tony Baker and museum President Dale Robertson while jogging, but that it was made possible because “our community members said yes.”
“All of you students out here, know that this community cares for you, they love you, they want you to have this wonderful experience,” she told the dozens of students on hand.
Seventh-grader Angelise Monroe said she enjoyed the experience last year, and is glad students now have the fourth floor to themselves: “I like the color, and how much space is up there that we have … a new space that we can learn from.”