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Marshall School plans $500,000 for facility renovations

Claire Ehlers-Nelson explains types of springs and how they work during her presentation to the sixth-grade science class at Marshall School Monday. The classroom will be getting a makeover as part of a $500,000 renovation to the science, math and engineering facilities in the school. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 4
Tom Diener, earth science teacher at Marshall School, gets his class set up to take a test Monday afternoon. Diener works out of a classroom that is slated to get a makeover as part of the New Horizon Campaign. At right is eighth-grader Reese Orn. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Kevin Breen (left), head of Marshall School; Nels Ojard, co-chair of the Next Horizon Campaign, and Jerry Fryberger, also a co-chair of the campaign, talk about the fundraising effort in a model classroom of future STEM labs that will be built over the summer at the school. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 4
t5.21.18 Bob King -- 052218.N.DNT.MARSHALLc4 -- Beth Tessier, CFO of Marshall School, explains how the chemistry classroom at Marshall School will be getting a much-needed makeover. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 4

The students and faculty of Marshall School are getting some shiny new toys next fall.

Nearly $500,000 in alumni donations is being invested into renovations for the school's STEM labs and classrooms. While part of the fix will replace old lab equipment, flooring and ceilings, the school is also investing in new layouts for the classrooms, hoping to utilize an open-floor plan to teach subjects such as math, physics and biology.

"It's really learning come alive," said Kevin Breen, head of the school. "We're very hands-on (with) science, so the labs and classrooms will be a free-flow design, because we believe the busier the kids are, the more occupied they are, the more engaged they are, the better the learning."

To tackle that endeavor, walls will be knocked down and replaced with windows and glass doors.

"Think of it as 'structured flexibility,' " said Nels Ojard, a co-chair of the fundraising campaign. "There is going to be a fluidity through the structured lecture environment and the hands-on environment."

Most of the science subjects are taught in lecture halls separate from their respective laboratories. If students wanted to understand the interaction between two elements in chemistry, they would have to wait until they could do lab work. The new system invites the freedom for a teacher to test those questions as soon as they come up.

"I love having this space so you can do direct teaching, but then being able to transition quickly into a lab and go right into doing lab work," said Dave Johnson, a sixth- and seventh-grade science teacher. "Then as kids finish that lab work, they can transition back into the classroom environment to finish a report."

Citing the last phrase in the Marshall School mission statement, the school's Director of Advancement Bryce Nixon said "intellectual curiosity" was a driving force behind the future layout of the classrooms.

"Kids can work on projects in front of each other," Nixon said. "Getting to take risks and fail, there's some value to doing that collectively."

Deciding on how these classrooms would look involved a yearlong discussion among faculty members to better understand what they needed to create a more conducive teaching environment.

For Greg Rohde, the school's advanced placement chemistry teacher and one of the visionaries behind the redesign, creating continuity between lab and classroom was only part of the reason behind the change.

"It helps us show students something they can't see at home or see on their own," Rohde said, "but at the same time, leaving the labs as their own space so it's not just limited to one teacher. It's a lot more flexible."

Rohde drew inspiration from his experience at the University of Minnesota and helped integrate some of the layouts of the college classroom into the design of the Marshall classrooms.

The faculty also toured other schools for ideas. After witnessing science departments at other schools renovate their classes only to see them go out of date too quickly, administrators focused on improvements that could embrace the constant evolution of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.

"The plan got smarter," Breen said. "We initially had to delay it about six years ago. It mostly gave us time to think through and visit other schools and come up with a smarter model."

The Krech-Ojard & Associates Physics and Engineering Lab has already been outfitted, serving as a model for the rest of the improvements. In the complex, glass doors divide two rooms. One housing desks and a projector for classwork, while the other is complete with power tools, robots and 3D printers. Lining the walls are large blank slates where students can write down questions they have, while the tables sit on wheels, free to be moved around the room.

"The equipment is modular," Breen said. "As science evolves, our space will evolve with it."

Tapping the resources of some of the 6,000 Marshall alumni, the $500,000 is only a piece of a $4.5 million Next Horizon Campaign fundraising effort by the Marshall school system to renovate several sections of the campus, in addition to the STEM wing of the school.

"Thirty-two thousand square feet is a pretty substantial part of the campus footprint," Ojard said. "In delivering that, and establishing the credibility through the trust of the broader community in donating to the campaign, it gives us the credibility and momentum to complete our other objectives."

Those other objectives include renovations to the arts and music wing, the athletic department and teacher salaries.

Construction will start the day after school gets out.

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