The Northeast Region School of the Future championship team from St. Michael’s Academy, Springfield. Front row, from left, Margaret Martin, Nicolas Dubois, Nora Markey. Back row, from left, Adriana Gonzalez, eighth grade science and mathematics teacher Sylvia Kaimi, Aleksandra Dougal, Joancy Espinal and Liam Sears.
Reminder Publications photo by Debbie Gardner
By Debbie Gardner
SPRINGFIELD – Word came on April Fool’s Day, but the results were no joke. At the end of the school day on April 1, St. Michael’s Academy (SMA) Principal Ann Dougal shared “good news” with the student body – it’s eighth grade School of the Future design team had captured the Northeast Regional championship and would be moving on to the international competition in Portland, Ore., Oct. 5 to 7.
“We jumped up and were screaming and ran to the back of the room,” Nora Markey, one of the seven members of the team, said. Four of the girls – Markey, Aleksandra Dougal, Adriana Gonzalez and Margaret Martin – hugged quickly, she said, then went across the hall to see their mentor, eighth grade science and mathematics teacher Sylvia Kaimi.
Nicholas Dubois said he and Liam Sears, the two young men on the team, just shook hands and said “nice job” to each other.
The seventh team member, Joancy Espinal, said she learned the results through tweets from Markey, first one saying they had lost – an April Fool’s joke – followed by a second tweet saying the team had won.
Sponsored by the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI), the annual School of the Future Design Competition challenges middle school teachers to take a “21st Century learning approach where students are enabled, engaged and empowered through a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum, leadership and teamwork proficiencies to master the 21st century skills they need to succeed in today’s global economy.”
The SMA team presentation showed judges a comprehensive, multi-level design for a combined middle and high school – complete with athletic fields, gymnasiums, alternative energy sourcing and a rooftop garden – called the St. Michael’s Charter School of Athletics and Academics.
This is the third year eighth grade students at SMA have taken part in the School of the Future competition. Their victory marks the first time a school from Massachusetts has been invited to the CEFPI international competition.
Kaimi said SMA teams have advanced to the regional competition two times before, but were always defeated by the team from Newtown, Conn.
“We walked out [of the March 24 regional judging] feeling pretty good,” Kaimi said. “But [Newtown, Conn.] had beaten us by one or two points in the past.”
While savoring the victory, Kaimi said she and the students quickly realized the invitation to compete presented two challenges. First, team members would not be moving on as a group to another school. The seven students report plans to attend Cathedral High School, Minnechaug Regional High School, Deerfield Academy and other high schools in the area.
The students don’t see the separation as a problem, however, as they are all friends and plan to keep in touch over the summer.
“It isn’t until October, so we’ll have time [to prepare],” Dougal said.
Kaimi said the team would also have one more opportunity to practice their presentation during a meeting of the local realtors association this May.
The second challenge is a bit more daunting. Though the CEFPI does provide funding for competing schools to attend the Portland competition, it only pays for a four-member presenting team and a mentor. The SMA team has seven members.
Kaimi said the SMA team will be fundraising between now and the October competition in the hopes they can raise sufficient funds to send all seven team members to Portland for the School of the Future competition.
Individuals interested in helping fund the SMA School of the Future’s trip to Portland in October can do so through PayPal on the school’s website, www.smaspringfield.org
Kaimi said even before this big win, the School of the Future competition had become a true source of inspiration for middle school students at SMA. What began as a way to help the class of 2012 heal from the loss of their middle school – which, as part of Cathedral High School was destroyed in the June 1, 2011 tornado – has now become a rite of passage for the eighth grade, and an opportunity for each class to try and surpass the work of the class before. She said she’s heard this year’s seventh graders talking about what their team will be designing when their turn comes next fall.