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Freshman campuses take learning into 21st century

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As the two new ninth-grade campuses at Marcus and Flower Mound high schools gear up for the first time, both principals are excited about the new school year.

The campuses will allow incoming freshmen – an estimated 835 to Marcus and an estimated 922 to Flower Mound based on eighth-grade enrollment – to have their very own domain on campus.

Using new collaborative spaces with portable technology in open spaces will give students and teachers more flexibility, they say.

Walking through the nearly-finished hallways of his new campus off Old Settlers Road, FMHS ninth-grade principal Will Skelton was visibly excited about the new format.

“Most classrooms are built with dividers to allow team teaching,” Skelton said as he pointed out magnetic white board dividers which can serve as a space for writing and showcasing student work. An 80-inch monitor in the classroom will be outfitted with eBeam which allows students to send information from their iPads to the monitor for the full class to see. The monitor also is touch screen capable and highly interactive.

“We’re looking at what skills they will need for their jobs,” Skelton said of the district’s technological advancements on the new campuses which are being funded through a $697 million bond package approved by voters in May 2008.

The classrooms are designed to spill out into open spaces through collapsible dividers or double doors into areas that will serve as collaborative niches for students to work together on projects, he said.

In addition, some subjects will be paired together – such as history and English – for cross curriculum opportunities, Skelton said, allowing students to learn and retain more through the new connections.

A community-based initiative bringing residents and school officials together allowed the opportunity for the Lewisville Independent School District to create a more flexible learning space and unique learning opportunities, said Elizabeth Haas, a spokesperson for Lewisville ISD.

The school district also applied for and received a waiver from the state to allow for more flexibility in the curriculum, Haas said.

“This is all a product of the community,” Skelton said, referring to the community-based initiative. “Everything you see was decided on by them.”

Even student desks are being built with flexibility – two wheels on front to allow for easy movement around the classroom.

In the cafeteria, a two-story library sits adjacent, open to the students as they gather for meals. The idea, Skelton said, was to make it easy for them to access and use individually or as groups. The library will carry both the traditional print books as well as e-edition books.

Irene Nigaglioni of architectural/engineering services with PBK Architects, said a number of new campuses are going to a more open format with technological advancements.

“The traditional classroom is going away,” she said.

Students will come into Flower Mound High School through a common area with the sophomores through seniors going right and the freshmen heading left. Some freshmen will be in the main high school campus for classes such as band or athletics.

But though the campuses are connected, Skelton said the ninth-grade campus will form its own identity while upholding the traditions of the main high school campus.

The staff, he said, is eager to get the school year underway.

“I want the community to know how proud I am of the teachers,” Skelton said. “As positions have come available, we’ve been able to hire outstanding teachers.”

At the new Marcus High School ninth grade campus off Morriss Road, keeping traditions while establishing new connections is key, says principal Chantell Upshaw.

“Our focus is on the freshman transition into high school,” Upshaw said, adding that her goal is to give students a strong foundation as well as interpersonal skills to prepare them for the future.

One of Upshaw’s goals in the coming year is to incorporate the main campus traditions into the new campus – Marcus Marauder spirit, Marcus pride and the Marcus red.

Being located on the same grounds as the high school offers incoming freshmen the best of both worlds, she said.

“They have their own principal on their own campus. And they have the opportunity to take classes at the main campus to get a taste of what it’s like.”

In addition to the collaborative spaces, students will have the portability of technology and even the ability to sign out projectors for special projects. The library, also an open design, will serve as a learning hub, she said.

To prepare for when students move into the higher grades, high school principals are working to incorporate more flexible spaces and technological advancements on the main campuses, Upshaw said, adding that they plan to “have some of the same features as the ninth grade campuses.”

Terri Magnotti, a member of Parents4LISD, said parents are excited about the ninth-grade campuses being located on the main high school grounds. However, they do have mixed emotions about the project-based learning program.

“As a group, we like the collaboration but we have concerns about the age-appropriateness of it,” she said.

The concept is good but some parents are concerned about its implementation, Magnotti said, adding that doing project-based learning, student-led projects and other new initiatives across the board and all at once can be a bit much for students and the teachers.

The group has been outspoken about their concerns, Magnotti said, but they want teachers and administrators to know they support them.

“We’d like them to just kind of dial it back,” she said. “Let your teachers pick and choose their methodologies.”

In the end, Magnotti said, it’s about teaching students what they need to know with a variety of methodologies.

“If they see too much of one thing, kids get bored,” she said. “We just want our kids to like school.”

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