Tuesday, August 30, 2011

TOP STORY >> Middle school awes parents

Leader staff writer

The new $31.5 million, 197,000 square-foot Sylvan Hills Middle School has a modern look inside and out. The sprawling building replaces the former 56-year-old school built in 1955 as Sylvan Hills High School.

The middle school has 785 students in sixth through eighth grades. The building separates grade levels into the three pods. The sixth-grade pod has yellow accented walls. The seventh-grade pod has blue accented walls. The eighth-grade pod has red accented walls.

Each pod has 16 classrooms, a conference room, a computer lab, a teacher’s workroom, a seminar room with seating for 100 students for projects or combining classes; and two commons area for students to meet.

The new school has nine separate science labs, three per grade level, all similarly equipped.

Eighth-grade science teacher Chuck Sawatski said the science labs have more presentation tables than at the old school.

The science labs have five computers per room. Students can do research here in case they don’t have a computer at home. The labs are roomier. Teachers are able to have more science equipment at hand, instead of packed away in storage rooms.

“Students need to see the globes, microscopes and Bunser burners. It excites the mind,” Sawatski said.

The school has two band rooms, two choir rooms and two art rooms. A stage was built inside the cafeteria. The school also has six career-education classrooms, an athletic gym that holds 1,200 students and a practice gym.

Construction crews are finishing the wood floors in both gyms and are scheduled to be completed by Labor Day.

“We feel blessed to be here. An open house had close to 1,400 parents and students. Parents were amazed at the building, saying it was beautiful, gorgeous and awesome,” Principal Jo Wilcox said.

Wilcox said the school had lots of help moving from the old middle school.

“The teachers have done wonderful, the parent teacher association was helpful and the parent volunteers have been positive,” she said.

Wilcox said the teachers and students appreciate the new middle school. They will care for the building and the grounds for future students and generations.

“One eighth-grade girl said, ‘We can’t let anyone write on the new desks,’” Wilcox said.

The school has skylights and large windows illuminating the wide hallways with natural light. Floor tiles are made of recycled rubber requiring no wax, but a special machine to clean the floors.

The school has new furniture and each classroom has a direct phone line for parents to contact teachers.

Classroom doors open into the hallway. At the old middle school, classroom doors opened to the outside. Wilcox said it will be easier for staff to keep up with students. She said the restrooms were a major improvement.

The school is equipped with the latest technology.

The school has computers; four computers are in each core curriculum classroom. Three traveling carts, one cart per grade level, contain 30 iPads with learning applications. Each classroom has an interactive Promethean whiteboard.

“Technology is a huge difference because the old school had two computer labs with troubles with the Internet,” Wilcox said.

“The technology budget was $1 million. I think that was impressive. State funding paid for 500 desktop computers,” school bookkeeper Peggy Holladay said.

The middle school has a parenting center for parents to use computers to check on their child’s grades. The center also has parenting books and materials.

Media specialist Sandy Robbins said the media center is much brighter, bigger and spacious than the old school. It is more inviting for students.

She said the media center has 19 brand new student computers. The library has more bandwidth so students can do more with the computers online at the same time.

“It doesn’t stall out,” Robbins said.

The library has a research lab and conference room. A large screen drops down from the ceiling for presentation.

Robbins said she loved the tall glass wall of the media center. It is the center of attention. Automated shades lower in front of the glass to darken the room.

She said the media center has no leaks and has a new car smell.

The school is built upon a hill with trees surrounding the building giving an isolated feeling in a busy city. Deer and Canadian geese have been seen feeding on the recently laid sod.

“The grounds are beautifully landscaped. The building is awesome to look at,” Wilcox said.

The school had traffic snarls on the first day of school, but traffic is moving smoother.

Wilcox said the mayor, police chief and fire chief met with school officials to improve traffic flow.

The school changed student car pick-ups to double-file lines. Sherwood officers are helping to direct traffic while the traffic lights are adjusted.