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Students pitch design ideas for school renovation

A group of Nickels Intermediate sixth-graders proposed a clever idea as part of redesigning their school’s entrance and parking lot: move buses closer to the school for district-wide pickup at the end of the day so less time is required for boarding students.

What to do with the time saved? Add it to the lunch period.

An extra 15 minutes to nosh would be an extra perk to the redesign plan. Its major benefits would be a more efficient, safe and attractive parking lot, explained students Madison Fonnesbeck, James Brock, Cole Brechting, Addyson Brown and Elizabeth Cristalyn, who recently won a STEM challenge for their plan.

Their work — and that of other students — is being considered as part of about $1 million in renovations, made possible by a $68 million bond proposal, to begin this spring at Nickels. STEM teacher Jessica Johnson said she wanted to challenge students to add their ideas into construction, leaving their mark on the school for generations to come.

Students like the idea of looking back and seeing their plans as reality at the fifth-and sixth-grade school. “We are not going to be here next year so it’s nice to know we designed this for other kids,” Addyson said.

“We were the ones that thought of the ideas that helped the school,” Madison said.

Designing Their Own School

Students created 3-D dioramas of a redesigned school entrance and parking lot area using recycled materials and other items. Principal Tom Trout, paraeducator Kristen Lee and area professionals judged the project during two rounds. The winning group also displayed their work at a Design Thinking Showcase at the new West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology.

Students used the Design Thinking process in developing their projects. It involves creating a plan based on what you’ve learned about your user through a process of trial and error.

“I really like that they were able to come up with anything they wanted,” Johnson said. “I didn’t give them any parameters at first. It was really cool to see how their plans came together. It was an experience for them to be creative.”

Students consulted Trout for information about district plans and brainstormed ways to alleviate traffic during pickup and dropoff times, improve the bus loop, add sidewalks and a handicap ramp. They added new playground equipment, landscaping and basketball hoops.

“I tried not to plant too much in their heads and they didn’t even really know this was going to happen this summer,” Trout said. While a new bus loop and changing the pickup location were part of district plans, students’ ideas for sidewalks and other plans are in fact happening.

“It doesn’t get more relevant than that — when they are able to come up with the design and a few months later see it come to fruition with many of the ideas they came up with,” Trout added. “I think they are going to feel empowered and like they had some kind of a say in it.”

While many of the students’ ideas aligned with district plans, groups came up with many original concepts. One  novel idea, which, sadly, won’t happen, was to construct a ladder inside the school leading to a slide on the roof that leads to the playground.


Students put design thinking to use with voters

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese 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 and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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