Ensights Magazine

new LS building

Looking Ahead: The New Lower School Building

Tiffany Townsend, Director of Marketing & Communications
This summer, the activity on the Red Gables Campus has been a bit atypical. Instead of lines of cars, backhoes and forklifts have occupied the hookup lanes. The playground has become a quiet field—a blank canvas awaiting new equipment.
The halls that would usually house groups of summer campers have been filled with generators and scaffolding. Soon, however, the sounds of drills and saws will be replaced with the sounds of students’ joy and delight.

When school starts this fall, students in kindergarten and first grade will walk into renovated and refreshed classrooms that will be outfitted with modular furniture designed for flexibility and creativity. Then, at the end of the first semester, students in Grades 3–5 will be able to move into their home in the new Lower School building.

The plan for the Lower School building and additional campus updates was informed by a facility-needs assessment performed by Blanchard Group, an architectural firm that specializes in master planning for independent schools. Administrators also traveled to other independent schools across the country to observe the synergy of their facilities and programs. The resulting blueprint includes 40% larger classrooms with maker areas, new modern science labs, immersive World Language classrooms, expanded Aftercare space, a new playground, and the completion of the loop road. The plan offers dynamic and flexible spaces designed to augment the implementation of our curriculum, inspire collaboration, and enrich the community as a whole.

Head of Lower School Heather Caponi shares, “The construction of the Lower School building will offer us beautiful new and remodeled spaces for our K-5 students and their teachers. Our goal is to create a flexible and adaptable environment that inspires community while attending to individual learning styles. We’ve selected furniture that will give teachers the freedom to re-arrange the classroom depending on the lesson or project of the day, whether that requires collaboration in a group or independent work.”

When teachers can facilitate multiple learning activities that offer students different experiences and perspectives on a subject, each child is able to discover the pathway to learning that makes the most sense to them. Under this model, students maximize their potential at their own pace and have ownership in the learning process. Grade 3 teacher Jennifer McGee notes, “The new building will be a modern use of space to meet the needs of our modern curriculum. Small groups of students can work with ease, teachers can create interactive lessons, and teachers can conference with students while other students are productively working.”

The new K-3 science lab and expansive math/science classrooms for Grades 4 and 5 will enable enhancements to the current curriculum and allow students to do a deeper dive into concepts with more comprehensive experiments. K-3 Science teacher Andrew Bond is looking forward to the new opportunities the larger labs will provide. “As the Lower School science lab moves toward project-based learning, a larger classroom space will allow students to learn about and research a topic in one area of the classroom and build their creations in a makerspace area in another part of the same classroom. In my current classroom, there isn’t enough space for the students to have two separate areas to learn and create.”

“I am excited about the future of the Lower School science programs,” says Grade 5 teacher Karin Prentice. “Due to our space constraints, we were limited in what we could accomplish in a science class. For example, all of the science labs had to be ‘done in a day’ labs since there were no spaces to store materials overnight. These beautiful spaces will allow for multi-day or multi-week science experiments and explorations.”

After years of utilizing the classroom-on-a-cart model, the Lower School World Language teachers will now have a dedicated space of their own. No longer limited to resources that can easily be carried from classroom to classroom, the teachers will be able to create spaces that reflect the culture of the language and provide an immersive experience for students. Caitlin Harris, who has been teaching Chinese in the Lower School since 2011, will be moving into a new role as Lower School Interdisciplinary Learning Coordinator/World Language Chair. “The dedicated World Language spaces will offer an inspiring and immersive environment for the Lower School students and language teachers,” says Harris. “I envision a learning space that sparks curiosity through visuals and realia and supports students’ use of Chinese and Spanish through intentional use of the space. Skits and relevant language practice can take place in a ‘cafe,’ an ‘airport,’ or even on ‘The Great Wall’ that have been created and imagined in these dynamic language rooms.”

The new and renovated spaces will bolster Ensworth’s four pillars of curriculum: immersive learning, personalized support, real-world relevance, and collaboration with peers. “We are working to develop cultural competence in our students and to give them skills that are applicable in multiple contexts,” says Bobby Mirzaie, Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “Our goal is that our students learn to communicate in diverse ways and to diverse audiences, to apply knowledge to new situations, to develop a level of adaptability, and to become independent learners.”

The development of these skills begins in the Lower School, and the new campus enhancements ensure an environment where students can cultivate both a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience, setting a solid foundation for growth and learning throughout their K-12 journey. As we celebrate the doors opening on these new spaces, we look forward to the doors that will open to new possibilities for all of our Lower School students and faculty.
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