Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 7, 2013

Students lead school improvement project

By Dustin Luca
Staff Writer

---- — Perhaps it will have a lounge chairs, or Kindles, or vending machines, or even a room with pet rabbits.

Whatever the case, Wood Hill Middle School’s Media Center is receiving a $10,000 upgrade, and the school’s students have been asked to design and budget the project.

But what the students see as a chance to create the library of their dreams is really a crash-course in municipal project planning, according to the teachers behind the project.

“It’s a project in itself,” said Laura Stella, sixth grade math and science teacher. “It links to standards and curriculum that we have to deliver in the classroom anyway, but in a real world way. It’s helping to improve their community.”

The idea behind the project came after the school’s Parent Advisory Council donated $10,000 to Wood Hill Middle. Principal Patrick Bucco put a call out to staff for inventive ways of upgrading the school’s media center space with the cash. Through that, Stella and Laurie Farrell, school engineering teacher, said they got involved and brought their combined 100 or so students along for the ride.

Teachers and students were polled to determine what they wanted in the media center. Data from that was then brought to the students in Farrell and Stella’s classes, at which point they started working on a budget and responding to the most popular suggestions from the school, according to Stella.

Then the planning started.

“At first they were really excited,” Farrell said. “Then when they dug into it, they were a little overwhelmed, because then they started realizing real-life problems like all the red tape you have to go through.”

After around eight weeks of research, planning and developing their projects — including tabulating costs for materials and looking for money-saving alternatives — the projects were each brought before a panel of school officials and town employees, including architects, planners and engineers at an event last Wednesday, Jan. 30.

Going over their project, sixth-graders Willa Huang, Dylan Marsh and Vivien Qiao said they developed a library that provides more entertainment and creates a more comfortable environment for students.

Their vision for a library included electronic reading devices like Amazon Kindles and an area with lounge-like chairs so students can take a break for a few minutes and then get back to their studies.

With the suggestion of a pet room with rabbits, the group accomplished their goal to “make it more kid friendly,” Qiao said.

Starr Guerrero, an 11-year-old sixth-grader, said her group worked to “make the library colorful.” Her group’s media center also included an enclosed reading room with snack vending machines for quiet studying.

Melissa Holguin, 12 and in the same group, said their project was under budget by around $1,800, which would be helpful if materials came in more expensive than planned.

Caleigh Schmitt, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, said her group’s goal was simply “to make a space where (students) could use it a lot more than they do.” She thought the idea of putting students in charge of improving their own school “was really cool.”

“We took a survey and saw what the students wanted,” she said. “The students could put their ideas into it.”

Having had the projects presented to them, the panel of school officials and town employees will narrow the field to just two proposals. Those design pitches will then be brought back to the student body, where the proposals “will compete, and the school will vote on the one they like the best,” Farrell said.

The project that wins the popular vote will be built over the summer, according to Farrell.