By Debbie Gardner
SPRINGFIELD – March 24 was the moment of truth for a team of eighth graders at St. Michael’s Academy (SMA).
The seven students – five girls and two boys, all dressed in their best business attire – tested their computer connections, looked over their notes and checked their carefully-crafted, three-dimensional model as they waited for the three out-of-town judges to assemble for their presentation.
State finalists in the School of the Future Design Competition, the meeting with representatives from the Council for Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) was their chance to earn a place at the International School of the Future Design Competition, slated for Portland, Ore., in October.
This spring represents the third time an eighth grade team from SMA has taken the School of the Future state title and advanced to the regional level. Eighth grade science and mathematics teacher Sylvia Kaimi said in past years the SMA team has presented their design concept to regional judges by telephone interview and by Skype.
“This year the judges came to SMA,” Kaimi said.
The team’s only competition for this year’s coveted regional title is the Newtown Middle School from Newtown, Conn. Kaimi said in past years the regional competition had included teams from middle schools in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
The SMA Class of 2014 team presentation showed judges a comprehensive design for a combined middle and high school called the St. Michael’s Charter School of Athletics and Academics. With a proposed site at the location of the former Cathedral High School, the team’s plans included the deconstruction and reuse of much of the materials from Cathedral, as well as such green technology as a geothermal heat pump, wind turbines and solar panels and a rooftop garden in the construction of the school. An outline for the school’s curriculum took into account diverse learning styles and included a baccalaureate program designed to draw interest from international students.
A scale model of the project, presented by team member Liam Sears, both illustrated classroom design and supported the athletic portion of the curriculum, showing multiple fields and a cutaway view of a dual basketball and gymnastics gymnasiums.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, team members Aleksandra Dougal, Adriana Gonzalez and Nora Markey outlined the cost of deconstruction and construction, proposed sources of funding for the project and plans for ongoing technology advancements at the school for the judges.
They also used it to address other concerns such as school safety, community involvement at the school and the inclusion of students of different faiths as well as those with disabilities. Aerial photographs and construction diagrams were also used to help explain certain aspects of the project.
The completed presentation was the culmination of five month’s work for the team beginning, according to Dougal, “the first week of school, one day a week.”
As only four members of the team were permitted to present to the judges, the three other eighth graders – Nicolas Dubois, Joancy Espinal and Margaret Martin – joined their colleagues for the judge’s commentary and question and answer portion of the competition.
Peter Winebrenner, an architect from Baltimore, Md. and a first-time judge for CEFPI, called the incorporation of deconstruction in the team’s plans “brilliant.”
He also commended the SMA team for including diverse learning styles in their project’s curriculum.
Glen Gollenberg, a returning CEFPI judge and Connecticut-based architect, told the SMA team he “really liked how you added sustainability” to the project with green technologies and re-use through deconstruction.
During the question and answer period, Education Facility Planner and CEFPI judge Philip Poinelli, from Cambridge, asked the team as a whole how their passions played into the planning process.
“We are all athletes,” Dougal said. “It was important to us that this school have both athletics and academics.”
Markey, who like several other team members had parents who attended the original Cathedral High School, said she knew from the beginning how important it would be to “get the community involved” in the school.
When asked what team members took away from the School of the Future project experience, Martin said researching and analyzing the different aspects of design and construction for the project helped the team better understand how work gets done in the real world.
“The whole School of the Future project got us ready for high school,” Martin said.
Kaimi said SMA originally entered the School of the Future competition three years ago to help eighth graders in the Class of 2011-12 cope with having lost their middle school – which was part of the Cathedral building – during the June 1, 2011 tornado.
“This [project] helped the class heal and dream of a brighter future,” Kaimi said. “Since then it has become a focal part of the eighth grade science curriculum.”
She added the SMA team should hear if they advance to the International Competition by March 28.