VANCOUVER — The first day of school is, for many students and families, something of an annual tradition.
Some may be attending a new school, while others may simply be trying to adjust to a school routine after a summer break. Vancouver Public Schools welcomed 24,000 students back to schools throughout the district on Wednesday.
One of those was Peter S. Ogden Elementary School in Vancouver.
“The first day of school is definitely a magical day,” said April Whipple, principal of Ogden Elementary School. “It’s fun to see all of the families come and taking pictures of their kids at the school or in their classrooms.”
The current Ogden Elementary School was built in the early 1970s, after a tornado destroyed the original building. As such, it is an older complex, and students and staff have only two more years in the current buildings, with plans underway to build a new school on the property.
Ogden serves approximately 560 students, with a majority coming from low income families.
Whipple said that the current focus for the school is student centered learning, revolving around three main initiatives.
The first initiative seeks to engage students through project based learning in makerspaces. Makerspaces allow students to gain hands on learning and “use the design cycle to problem solve,” Whipple said.
The school staff is also focusing on “restorative practices.”
“We feel social and emotional education is extremely important,” said Whipple. This initiative aims to help students build community, as well as learn mindfulness and healthy interactions with other people.
Finally, Whipple said that a third initiative is “focusing on standards.” This means that the school staff will focus on learning standards and assessment. Currently, there is a focus on writing, as Ogden adopted a new writing curriculum last year.
Of the three initiatives, Whipple said that the makerspaces were likely the most exciting for students. The new school year is the second time Ogden has implemented this teaching method, as last year the school served as the district pilot program for the makerspaces.
This year, Whipple said that the program is expanding to include a dedicated makerspaces teacher who will collaborate with classroom teachers to provide lessons that tie in to classroom instruction. Doing so “will add a whole new level of depth to the makerspace activity,” Whipple said.
The makerspace program focuses on STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. There are different areas in the makerspace for different projects. These range from arts and crafts to sewing to robotics to woodworking. All students, regardless of grade level, take part in the makerspace activities.
According to Whipple, Ogden Elementary School will soon be getting new facilities. She and five other staff members meet weekly with representatives from LSW Architects to provide design input for the new school. Groundbreaking is scheduled to take place in the spring, and the new Ogden will open in the fall of 2019.
Whipple said that students have been involved in the design process for the new school. As part of the makerspaces program last year, students took part in a project called “Designing a Dream.”
Each grade level was assigned an area of the school to design. They then interviewed people who worked in those areas to see what each space would need. Students then worked in groups to design a model of their area, and presented these models and ideas to representatives from LSW Architects.
Being involved in planning a new school complex is a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” Whipple said. It is an opportunity “we should definitely take advantage of and connect it to the learning for the kids.”
With every school year come challenges, and Whipple said that the biggest ongoing challenge facing Ogden is student mobility. According to Whipple, many students may start the school year later or leave Ogden before the year ends.
“It’s really hard to fill all the gaps in kids’ education when they transfer schools often,” Whipple said. The biggest challenge related to student mobility was making sure new students feel welcome, she said.
Whipple’s overall goals for the school year ahead involve the design and planning of the new school building. She said she wants to “figure out a way to replicate the sense of community that people feel at Ogden.”
That sense of community is not limited to students enrolled at Ogden. Whipple wants the new school to “create a hub of the community where families feel comfortable going not just to send their kids to school, but they go there because community activities are there as well.”