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South Campus Features New Space, New Ways of Learning

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Throughout the new Caledonia High School South Campus, students gathered in groups, busy working in open spaces. The setting resembled groups of professionals from Google or Steelcase, as students worked on projects individually and together, plugged in their tech tools and moved about thanks to mobile, flexible furniture.

Students kicked off the 2017-2018 school year using the nearly complete two-story facility, next to the main campus at 9050 Kraft Ave. SE. Building highlights include:

  • science and art wings
  • 23 classrooms
  • a modern media center with flexible furniture
  • an auxiliary gymnasium
  • a mini auditorium
  • a Black Box Theater for small productions
  • a cafeteria
  • two large project rooms bordered by smaller break-out spaces for small group work and lots of collaborative space building-wide

Students liked the new space. “It feels much more open,” said sophomore Teresa Clemens. “I feel like it’s more hands-on,” said junior Annalise Runkel. “There are going to be more learning opportunities brought to kids,” added sophomore Destiney Pelton.

Open space with high ceilings and natural light are design features of the new building

Space for New Ideas

Indeed, the limited spaces, tight hallways and rigid desks of schools a generation ago have been kissed goodbye in Caledonia, and students are catching on fast. The school’s design, with all its highlights, will accommodate Project Based Learning (PBL), a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by investigating and then responding to questions, problems or challenges. The method is becoming increasingly popular, and used at Innovation High School, located on Kent ISD’s campus. It often involves partnering with businesses, working to solve community problems and finding other real-world applications for learning.

“(The building) was designed with collaborative learning in mind and for creating unique spaces for us to practice some new instructional strategies,” said Principal Brady Lake. “We are beginning to incorporate (PBL) in different classrooms…It is an opportunity to teach 21st century skills that we know are so important in today’s economy and today’s world.”

Fourteen high school teachers attended PBL training this summer at Buck Institute for Education, in Novato, California. Administrators are discussing adding a PBL cohort, where high schools students can opt to learn all their core classes through PBL instruction, in the future.

Ninth and 10th grade English teacher Theresa Yonker, who attended the training, is already testing PBL in her class. “Having the collaborative work spaces is huge. Prior to having those spaces, we were tied into those four walls and it made it difficult to branch out with group work and being able to have students work out of the box,” she said.

She was starting a project tied to the 9/11 terrorist attack using history and English by having student watch a documentary about the event and brainstorm ways to use what they learn to better the community.

“The new facility is certainly conducive to that type of program,” Lake said.

The South Campus also alleviates crowding at the main campus with room for 600 students and land for expansion. Ninth-through 12th-grade students walk between buildings for class.

The building was funded through a $41 million millage extension passed in 2014. Of that, $28 million was planned for high-school upgrades.

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What is Project Based Learning?

Students are busy at work in the new open spaces at Caledonia High School South Campus
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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