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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘This school belongs to them’: New $70 million Yasuhara middle school puts students first, educators say

Bobbi Konshuk, an English language arts and social studies teacher at Denny Yasuhara Middle School in Spokane, works to set up her new classroom and lesson plans last Wednesday.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Bobbi Konshuk, an English language arts and social studies teacher at Denny Yasuhara Middle School in Spokane, works to set up her new classroom and lesson plans last Wednesday. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Allen For The Spokesman-Review

The first day of school is barely two weeks away, and Stephanie Lundberg can’t wait.

Lundberg, principal of the new Denny Yasuhara Middle School, has spent the last two-plus years preparing for Sept 6.

During that time, she has assembled staff, coordinated them and met with families – all while hundreds of workers built the $70 million school on North Perry and Foothills Drive.

“To actually see it come to fruition has been amazing and breathtaking, and really this makes you pause and be grateful for the opportunities that we’ve had,” Lundberg said.

On Sept. 6, the new narrative will focus on the 400 students who will converge on Yasuhara from neighborhoods in north Spokane. Last year they were elementary school fifth- and sixth -graders. Now they will be the first beneficiaries of Spokane Public Schools’ decision to move sixth -graders into middle school.

That decision led to the 2018 passage of the historic $495 million bond, most of which was earmarked for the construction of six new middle schools. Northside schools Glover and Shaw were replaced last year; this year, it’s the turn for Yasuhara and Flett – brand new in every way.

All that newness will mean some first-day jitters, Lundberg acknowledged. However, much of the work – physical and otherwise – has been devoted to making the newcomers feel welcome.

That doesn’t include skateboarders, however; concrete blocks outside the entrance are topped with metallic leaves that will shred any board.

An exterior of brick and dark brown trim leads to a single point of entry near the main office. A community engagement center sits just off the main entrance.

“Relationships relate to success in school. What we’re looking for is building relationships. Student-to-student, staff-to-student and staff-to-staff,” said Greg Forsyth, director of capital projects for the district.

The interior and exterior design drew inspiration from the logging mills that once occupied the neighborhood.

Like other new district middle schools, Yasuhara contains a library and a cafeteria – now called learning and nutrition common spaces.

The interior is roughly shaped in a semicircle to foster relationships and collaboration, a reflection of student and staff input.

“It was all about how do we make this their school?” Lundberg said. “This school belongs to them, this is their place, we want them to feel ownership and love where they go to school.”

Part of the challenge was incorporating features that walked a line between challenging the new sixth graders and overwhelming them.

“We really wanted to take some of that elementary experience and push it up to middle school,” Lundberg said. “We understand this gives our families a little bit of anxiety, bringing their babies up into a big middle school.”

Students will be exposed to new “experiential suites” that offer material processing, art, music and other career/technical aspects. Some of that curricula isn’t offered at the elementary school level.

“We’re not in a hurry for students to grow up. We just want to make sure they have the best experience that they can have,” Forsyth said.

To bolster his point, Forsyth pointed out the playground located on the western edge of the 16-acre site. Large logs form part of the playground, which sits on a foam surface.

“No more falling into wood chips,” Forsyth said.

Most of the learning happens in “neighborhoods” grouped by grade level.

Upstairs, seventh-grade humanities teacher Bobbi Konshuk was decorating her room last week and looking forward to collaborating with a STEM teacher next door.

Asked how that will work, Konshuk said she expects that the study of ancient civilizations will dovetail with an examination of how those people made the simple machines that brought them out of the Stone Age.

“This is very exciting,” Konshuk said.

A sense of community will extend to the weekends, when adult and youth recreational leagues will be able to use the Yasuhara gymnasium.

The school is named for Denny Yasuhara, a former teacher and community activist.

The building was designed by MMEC Architecture of Spokane. Bouten Construction is the project coordinator.

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