A new “Google Age” learning space will greet students in grades six to eight when they walk into Amherst Junior High School this year.
Crews dismantled the former library over the summer and have built a creative learning center similar to the one christened last year at Steele High School.
Books are gone, replaced by $225,000 in collaborative spaces where “thoughts can come off the computer and turn into something they can build,” said principal Andrew Gibson.
There are big screens where kids can share research, cafe-style seating where they can put their heads together, and an “Idea Foundry” where they’ll be able to build LEGO robots or use 3D printers.
The renovation was made possible by a $120,000 donation from the Amherst Schools Educational Foundation and $105,000 left over from construction projects last year at Steele.
Gibson said test scores can be valuable benchmarks, but they’re not always the best measure of what students can achieve. The creative learning center will allow students to demonstrate that what they read in a textbook can be applied in the real world — just like they’ll be expected to do one day in the workplace.
Teachers will be tasked this year with meeting students where they’re at individually. Not everyone learns the same way; some students do well on tests, others do better with hands-on learning.
“Twenty-five students in a classroom are all coming from 25 very different places,” Gibson said. “Teaching one lesson is not going to reach all 25 kids in the room. You have to teach that lesson in a variety of ways to make sure you’re reaching every learner.”
And, especially at the junior high level, they have different emotional needs.
Younger students are “90 percent emotion and 10 percent controlled thought,” the principal said with a knowing smile. Their bodies are changing, they’re dealing with peer pressure, and they’re expected to handle both more freedom and more responsibility.
That stress can often be a positive force, pushing students to perform better. Sometimes it can have a destructive effect and Gibson said educators need to be aware that many AJHS students are struggling.
Stress affects both low-achieving and high-achieving students. “You may have a student who got an A- and not an A and that causes stress,” he said. “For us as human beings, it’s hard to achieve at the highest level all the time. I think we have to teach kids that it’s OK to fail in an attempt as long as you learn from it. You don’t want to fail a test or a course, but it’s OK to go outside your comfort zone and try new things and not be as successful as you think you should have been. You can grow from that.”
To help with those issues, the Amherst Schools have hired a full-time social worker.
Gibson said AJHS will also continue to build on its character education efforts. It’s important to teach kids they can’t always control events, but they can control the way they respond.
When a student is sent to the principal’s office, they’ll talk about what happened. They’ll also discuss what responses could have improved the outcome and how making excuses or casting blame is never the solution.
Every student “owns” a little responsibility to make AJHS a better place, Gibson said.
“I want them to understand each and every one of them is important to what we do here as a building and as a unit,” he said. “Within that, we want to be fun and want to be engaging – but that comes from the decisions we all make. You have to own your piece of that.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.