Students dream up the perfect school for Park City | ParkRecord.com

Students dream up the perfect school for Park City

They presented their ideas to committee designing new school

From left Janne Koch, Abigail McLeod, Maggie Carlson and John Trahan are among the seventh-graders at Ecker Hill Middle School who dreamed up their own middle schools as part of a class project. They presented their ideas to the district committee tasked with designing a new school for fifth and sixth grades.

The Park City School District is in the middle of developing a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders, and recently a new group of experts joined the process: students who were that age not too long ago.

Over the last few months, groups of seventh-graders at Ecker Hill Middle School were tasked in their CTE (career and technical education) classes with producing their own visions for what a perfect early middle school would look like. Each group was required to poll more than 100 of their classmates, then use the results to design the details of the school's architecture; select a location based on traffic impacts and other factors; create bell schedules and school policies; develop a curriculum; and make food menus for each day of the week.

But the assignment was not purely academic. Several of the top groups recently presented portions of their projects to the district committee charged with designing the actual school. Trip Marshall, a CTE teacher at Ecker Hill, said the committee may even implement a few of the students' ideas in the final design.

"A big part of our CTE department is that whole idea of overlaying what we learn in class into the real world and overlaying the real world into what we do in class," he said. "It was great to take that one more step. This is a relevant issue, and learning needs to feel real. This was a real pitch to a real group of people making real decisions."

Brad Gannon, another teacher involved in the project, said some groups came up with ideas that would be impractical at an actual school, such as a shorter day and fewer class periods. But one common thread among the best projects was curricula that somewhat mirrored the courses offered at Ecker Hill. Many students chose to include technology and family and consumer science classes similar to the ones they're currently taking.

"They wanted those included in their school," he said. "That says, to an extent, that they like what they're doing here."

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Marshall added that it was enlightening to see the students' visions for the ideal learning environment. Too often, he said, their opinions aren't taken into account when education officials make major decisions.

"The students, if the school was a business, they're our consumers," he said. "How often do we ask our consumers what's working and what's not working, as opposed to us having our own ideas about things."

For their part, the students said they enjoyed digging into the project because of the autonomy their teachers afforded them. They were given parameters, but were free to come up with unique designs. In some ways, that made the project more challenging, but it was ultimately more rewarding.

"In the beginning, everyone was kind of like, 'OK, it's just going to be another one of those projects where we just do whatever,'" said Abigail McLeod, who was part of one of the groups that presented to the committee. "Everyone thought the teachers would guide us through it. But they gave us just a little information and we had to work off that. We'd ask them questions, and they'd be like, 'It's your project. It's your school.'"

Another student, John Trahan, added that his group focused on creating a school his classmates would be excited to attend each day. The group's final design aimed to improve many elements already found within the district's existing schools.

"We decided to make everything look nice," he said. "When it's like that, kids will enjoy the school more, and they'll want to come see what it has to offer. We look forward to seeing if this new school incorporates any of our ideas."

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