“We’re proud of our school, it’s true. … We’re the eagles through and through!” —Walnut Grove school song
Things have changed a lot over the last 109 years. From a one-room schoolhouse in 1907, Walnut Grove was rebuilt in 1952 and remodeled and expanded over the years, today serving 770 students and 80 staff members.
There’s a lot to celebrate at Walnut Grove, from its diverse student population and enthusiastic staff to its innovative projects and reinforcement of positive behaviors.
However, the large number of students and age and condition of the 64-year-old facility have created some significant teaching and learning challenges:
No room for personalized learning: Because space is at a premium, students must use tables placed in hallways in order to work one-on-one with a staff member or in small groups. Distractions are frequent for these students when their peers are passing through.
Tight spaces: A computer lab/learning support area is housed in a former closet, and an old portable classroom has been converted into an art studio. There is insufficient space for the Family-Community Resource Center, which is vital to the school’s culture.
Overcrowding: The gym is not large enough to hold the entire school at once, so assemblies must be held in shifts. Lunch also is served in shifts. Moreover, the playground is crowded during recess. There are not enough structures for kids to play on, and the volume of students on the playground at once makes it difficult for adults to supervise them.
Traffic problems: The small parking lot and large number of students being dropped off and picked up hinder traffic flow. In addition, staff members, parents, volunteers and visitors often end up parking across or down the street, further congesting traffic in the neighborhood.
Unclear entrance: The school’s entrance is difficult to find, making it hard to welcome visitors properly.
Portables: Approximately 160 students attend classes in three portable buildings.
Restrooms: The number of bathrooms is inadequate for the number of students, staff members and visitors
Old roof: In spite of careful maintenance, the roof leaks whenever it rains.
Vancouver Public Schools is addressing these challenges by redesigning the school. On June 1, staff and board members, parents, students and community members engaged in a symposium to discuss Walnut Grove’s future. As a result of their feedback, planning teams created three concepts.
A June 1, 2016, symposium involved almost 70 people in a discussion about future learning needs and interior and exterior design considerations. Participants included Principal Esteban Delgadillo; Associate Principal Mark Jordan; Walnut Grove staff members; Andrew Brandt, Imagine Learning; Heather Cates and Jeannie Mutch, Kidspace; parents Nicole Kruse, Aniscia McAdams, Ludmila and Oleg Rusnac and Maria Trejo; John Martin, Northside Baptist; Judy Sulloway, community member; Rick Wilson, Vancouver Education Association; Jessica Worley; Family Solutions; and many valued stakeholders.
Their feedback revealed a few key themes:
Community—enhancing the school’s role as a neighborhood hub with inviting places available even after school hours for parenting classes and support, alternative education and early learning opportunities
Personalization—providing the tools and facilities for education to be personalized to the needs of every student; this means adaptable and dedicated spaces for large and small groups, hands-on learning, career-focused experiences and creative opportunities
Technology—introducing new technologies in a meaningful way while balancing tech-focused learning with traditional learning
Diversity—celebrating differences and student work and accomplishments, while also preparing children to live in a global society and bringing together the school as one community
Natural light and materials—using materials, including tactile substances, that would allow the building to become a teaching tool
Outdoor—building a larger playground, including covered play areas, age-designated areas, a nature trail, outdoor restrooms, multi-use fields and an amphitheater, as well as separate bus and parent dropoff/pickup areas