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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Middle school students want new buildings to get kids excited about going to class

Eighth-grader Emily Richardson discusses the benefits of wider halls and other amenities during a meeting of Spokane Public Schools educators on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (Jim Allen/The Spokesman-Review)

When middle-schoolers talk about a brighter future for Spokane Public Schools, they aren’t speaking in the abstract.

They want brighter classrooms and more windows. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a little more elbow room in the halls, because as eighth-grader Emily Richardson said Friday morning, “Kids should be excited to go to school.”

Richardson and other middle-school students chimed in during a two-day event designed to help school officials get the most out the $495 million bond approved last year by Spokane voters. Most of the money will be spent building six middle schools across Spokane.

The event was a jump-start of sorts.

“We have this unique opportunity,” said associate superintendent Mark Anderson, who helped lead the bond effort. “We want to do this right, and not just repeat the old designs.”

The event drew guest speakers, including Aithjan Shapira, who challenged officials “to lead by seeing and listening differently.”

Of course, outside-the-box thinking is tougher when the subject is a large box of concrete and steel.

The students, one from each middle school, were there to help. Two of them – Richardson, who studies at North Central High School’s Institute of Science and Technology, and Chase eighth-grader K.C. Stenson-Oakley – were chosen to represent the students’ perspective.

Neither will be around to enjoy the new buildings, but both want the district to get it right.

Speaking confidently, Richardson and Stenson-Oakley told the audience that for many students, the middle-school experience is more than a classroom.

“We all find success in different ways,” Richardson said. “We would like to have options.”

The biggest option isn’t an option at all, they said. Required to be on time for class, some of Stenson-Oakley’s classmates struggle to navigate narrow, overcrowded hallways.

At Chase, students must leave one class, dash to the far end of the building to their lockers, then return.

“I’ve heard from a lot of students who say they’re always crowded,” said Stenson-Oakley, who likened the problem to rush-hour traffic.

“When one person ahead of you stops, then everyone stops. Then it gets hard to make it to class,” he said.

At other schools, according to Richardson, “Everybody is lined up three across the hall, so how do you get through?” Richardson asked as she pointed to an artist’s rendering that showed what the hallways of the future might look like.

Even more important is the design, both students said as they related to renderings of big windows enclosing informal study spaces.

One showed a brightly-lit stairway. At the top was a stand of plants, a prop that Stenson-Oakley used to comedic effect.

“The plants may be fake, I don’t know,” he said. While the adults laughed, Stenson-Oakley noted that “this is a hallway, but the kids are studying.”

“A school isn’t just a place that supports our learning but does that everywhere you go,” he said.

Richardson said learning doesn’t just happen at a desk. She likes the study lounge at the NC science lab, and hopes to see more of them at middle schools.

“I really hope that what we’re talking about will become a reality,” Richardson said. “Right now, not every kid likes going to school, and it would be amazing to see that one day everybody loves it.”

The district will take it from there, with input from stakeholders. On Feb. 20, the district will hold preliminary discussions with architectural firms.

The district has the benefit of hindsight. In 2003, it held a similar workshop a few hundred yards away at the old Ferris High School campus.

That meeting led to the end of the one-size-fits-all elementary schools and the beginning of unique designs for each.

“We were tired of the look-alike schools,” said Anderson, who expects that approach to continue as the district looks to replace the cookie-cutter buildings at Glover, Shaw and Sacajawea middle schools.