Building for the future: Educators voice support for project to renovate science classrooms, labs

Seymour Community School Corp. teachers and administrators want to be able to educate today’s students for tomorrow.

That is why they support the district’s plan to invest nearly $2 million to update science classrooms and labs at Seymour High School and complete the interior of the school’s new agriculture facility in 2018.

About 5 percent of that investment — $100,000 — will be used to construct an accessible playground for students with special needs at Seymour-Redding Elementary School.

The projects are being paid for through the district’s capital projects fund and a general obligation bond issue.

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Brandon Harpe, assistant to the superintendent, said the financing is not expected to impact the corporation’s tax rate.

Educators spoke in favor of the projects and provided testament as to why they believe the renovations are needed during a public hearing last week. No one spoke in opposition to the projects.

Seymour High School Assistant Principal Catherine DuBois said much has changed since the high school was built in 1959 and since the last building addition in 1996.

The community has grown, and more is required of graduates to be college and career ready, DuBois said.

By 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets for most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, she said.

Students still will need technical skills, but they also must have strong social and collaboration skills, she added.

This information has led the administration to realize a change is needed.

“While our current facilities are meeting the demands of rigorous curriculum and instruction, we are poised for innovation and flexibility in increasing our impact on our students’ adaptive skills, technical skill sets and collaborative engagement,” DuBois said. “Our facilities must adapt to the changing landscape of our workforce and the demands of our curriculum and standards.”

Renovating will allow the school to capture opportunities for the science, math and technology departments to better utilize the labs with applied skills in multiple content areas.

“By updating our facilities, we can potentially expand the landscape of our current career and technical program,” DuBois said. “SHS is becoming limited not by student interest but by our structural limitations.”

Redesigning the science wing will allow the school to be a “forerunner” in cutting-edge facilities and better use the existing space, she said.

Principal Greg Prange said even though the school tries to stay modern with its equipment, facilities and pedagogy, the science labs have fallen behind.

“Most of our current science laboratories are sadly stuck in the 1990s. Worse than that are the labs that were constructed over 40 years ago,” he said. “We’re badly in need of an upgrade to our facilities.”

Speaking on behalf of the agriculture department, teachers Jeanna Eppley and Micah Wallace said once the school’s new ag research facility is equipped with amenities and technology, it will support the education of students and benefit the community. The exterior or shell of the facility was completed earlier this summer.

“This facility will provide students with the opportunity to learn by doing, which is part of the FFA motto,” Eppley said.

Wallace said there has been significant growth in the agriculture program, including at Seymour Middle School.

“My food science and agribusiness classes have doubled in size, and my middle school intro to ag class has increased by 18 students from last year for a total of 70 middle school students who are enrolled,” she said.

“These students want to be a part of our program,” she said. “They want to be in our classes. They enjoy what they’re learning, and because of that, we are growing rapidly.”

By investing in the education of students, the corporation is investing in the community, Eppley said.

“When we have educated and employed individuals in our community, we see a higher tax base, we see a lower crime rate, we see increase in charity and lower public assistance,” she said.

The third project, a playground at Redding accessible to children with physical disabilities, received support from Mika Ahlbrand, director of special education, the school principal and a parent of a special needs child.

Ahlbrand said students will spend around 32,400 minutes or 540 hours at recess throughout their time at Redding.

“Having an accessible playground will mean giving more access to our students through an appropriate surface as well as specialized equipment,” she said.

Because Redding’s current playground is utilized by the public during the summer, after school and on the weekends, Ahlbrand said the new playground could be a “great source of pride for our community.”

Redding Principal Steve Bush said the new playground is important because it gives all students the opportunity to play.

“Play is crucial for human development, growth in social skills and to build confidence,” he said.

Parent Patrick Downey said his daughter is a second-grader at Redding, and she uses a wheelchair.

“She really likes to be outside and be in the sun,” he said. “She especially likes to get out of her wheelchair and be in the swing.”

Downey said they often go to Gaiser Park because of the accessible swings there, so he was glad to hear the trustees were planning to build an accessible playground at Redding.

“I really appreciate all the school is doing for my daughter and all students with special needs,” he said.