In U.S. History teacher Tyler Pettit’s class, ninth-graders formed arguments on the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. While students debated, others pulled up information on laptops to support their points and make counterpoints as to whether actions were justified. They sat in a “fish bowl” style, in a circular formation.
A new wide open space with lots of technology made the activity run smoothly, Pettit said. Students gathered in the Collaboration Center, a large wide-open space fully equipped with technology, such as large screens affixed to the walls, a huge screen on the wall of a stage and ample outlets, plus comfy furniture, moveable desks, and breakout rooms. It’s an optimal environment for group work, presentations, skits and instruction that requires movement and engagement, said teachers and students.
“It allows for students to learn how they want to learn. It allows for ownership really; that’s the biggest thing,” Pettit said.
“Everything is very cutting edge,” added Principal Andy Kolzow. “It allows students to innovate. It allows teachers to be creative in their lesson planning and create more engaging lessons.
As the facility improvements made possible through a $64.8 million bond passed in November 2015 continue to take shape, the district is coming together – literally – in big, open spaces at all 16 schools and the Kentwood Administration Building, 5820 Eastern Ave. SE.
“One of the centerpieces of the bond was for each school have a Collaboration Center,” said Superintendent Mike Zoerhoff.
Collaboration Centers were built over the past two years at several schools including Valleywood and Crestwood middle schools, East Kentwood High School and Freshman Campus and Glenwood, Bowen and Explorer elementary schools. All will be built by 2021. At the elementary level, the centers serve as redesigned media centers blending features of a traditional library with the collaboration-center concept.
Zoerhoff said technology in the centers will be kept up to date, with bond money set aside to replenish equipment and devices.
Students are enjoying the spaces for many subjects and uses. “It’s not a classroom, and that helps because we are so used to being in a classroom seven hours a day,” said freshman Sylvia Shaver. “It’s nice to be in an open space with comfy seating.”
“I like being in here because it’s bigger and it’s not like being in a box,” added freshman Madison Rogers.
A Community Hub
While students are using Collaboration Centers for academic purpose, a space under construction with plans to open in January at the Administration Building will bring together community groups. It will be a venue available for rent, with space for 50 to 100 people to meet, use technology, and have another connection to the schools.
“Kentwood Public Schools is a hub for the community and surrounding communities.
We love to have our facilities used because the taxpayers paid for them,” Zoerhoff said.
He envisions it as space for government and business partners to meet and as a professional development hub for teachers. “We appreciate the community support and want to make sure we are a community school and share these facilities with the surrounding community.”