The future of education in Arlington is not just how the content will be taught, it also involves how the building itself can help teach.
Parents, neighbors, teachers and students gathered in Arlington Town Hall to discuss how innovations in education will reflect in the redesign Arlington High School at a public forum on Feb. 13.
While AHS principal Matthew Janger spoke about the current building's many flaws, including long hallways with no classrooms and aging infrastructure, forum organizers kept the conversation away from what a new building might look like. Instead, they asked residents what the building should help them do.
"The building is not the change," David Stephen, educational programmer from New Vista Design, said. "But what the building can do hopefully is to help the district and the school move their agenda forward."
New kinds of learning
Stephen outlined a variety of teaching philosophies to consider, many emphasizing projected-based learning and “blended learning,” where online resources are combined with a more traditional classroom environment to give students more control over the pace of their lessons.
After his presentation and an update from Janger about current programs and teaching methods being used at the high school, the discussion was handed over to the audience. In groups of five to 10, residents traded ideas on what skills they thought AHS students needed and how they felt AHS classes should be designed to provide students with those skills.
The groups came up with long lists of skills, but communication, critical thinking and adaptability were echoed widely among the participants as being especially important.
Focusing on students
AHS math teacher Kent Werst said, given the speed at which many skills are made obsolete, emphasizing traits like critical thinking and communication, which can be applied in multiple contexts, is especially important.
When it came to sharing ideas on how classrooms could promote these skills some participants cautioned against just relying on project-based learning. While it can be a valuable tool, one group suggested that it can favor male students, since female students are often conditioned to be less forceful about their ideas.
Class schedule flexibility was also encouraged by many members of the audience, particularly Henry Fox-Jurkowitz and Quinn Connell, who are both juniors at AHS.
Connell said he would only have time to take about third of the courses he was interested in by graduation and was even considering taking summer classes at the local community college in order to free up blocks in his senior schedule.
Building for a sustainable future
Both Connell and Fox-Jurkowitz, who are members of the high school’s sustainability club, said they had hoped there would be a bit more discussion of the actual construction plans, but were optimistic about the project's direction.
"We went to the last forum, where we talked about the architecture and everyone seems to be on board with putting in the necessary money to make this an investment," Connell said.
"A sustainable investment," Fox-Jurkowitz added.
Tuesday was the second of four planned public forums on the project, whose scope is still being determined. Before plans are agreed to, the Massachusetts School Board Authority requires towns to look at three potential options: renovating the current buildings, building additions onto the pre-existing structure, or tearing down the current school and building a new one.
Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said that regardless of whether the project ended up as a renovation or a complete rebuild, construction was unlikely to start anytime before the spring of 2020.
Bodie added the development team plans to discuss construction options more at the third public meeting, which is scheduled for March 5.