By Andrew Cluley- AAPS Communications Specialist
Ann Arbor Public Schools enrollment has grown by over 1,000 students in the last three years as a result of new programs and initiatives put in place following Superintendent Jeanice Swift’s Listen and Learn tour. Perhaps no single school serves as a better example of the positive impact the new programs have had than A2 STEAM at Northside. Enrollment now stands around 600 students K-8, after Northside Elementary enrollment was only about 175, or 35 percent of the building’s capacity three years ago.
A2 STEAM and district officials celebrated the dedication of the expanded building last week. Work completed in the last few years includes a brand new middle school sized gym, additional classrooms, a new playground, and the conversion of the old gym into a band room and a new makers space lab. Bright pops of color now welcome visitors to the school, and young students can quickly learn where they are going by different colored tiles on the floor.
Principal Joan Fitzgibbon thanked the construction crews for keeping students the top priority even as the expansion work was underway. “We became a family throughout this project and I want to thank the many contractors and architects who were very respectful that we were still conducting school, and they always put kids first” she says.
Many of the workers even chose to attend events at the school. Some of this connection comes from the fact that the expansion itself became part of the classroom experience. “The construction provided us many opportunities to use our project based learning,” Fitzgibbon says. “We did erosion projects, and who would have gotten to do that without construction, and we got to design the play scape which was out front now for the K-1 playground, and of course the installation of the wind turbine.”
The dedication ceremony wasn’t just about the building however, it also served as a celebration of the success of the entire A2 STEAM program. Superintendent Jeanice Swift credits parents from Northside Elementary with wanting a new focus and coming up with the STEAM idea and then the A2 STEAM staff for making it a reality. “It is not only a transformation of the physical space,” she said. “But because of the brilliance and the dedication, the commitment, of these folks in orange, it has also been a transformation of teaching and learning.”
Parent Don Wilkerson says it’s clear the school is now a bright star in Ann Arbor thanks to the community and staff coming together to make a difference. He’s seen the change it’s made for his children. “My kids come home personally, they’re excited about the next project,” Wilkerson says. “Whether it’s the salmon eggs in fifth grade or the chicken coop that they’re building. It’s truly amazing and it’s been really special for our family.”
Salsabeel, an A2 STEAM student backs up Wilkerson’s thoughts about the benefit of hands on learning. “I feel the teachers explain things really well through ever single step along the way they help you,” she says. “The hands on projects were amazing. I loved working in them and I think they were great for tactile learners.”
While developing the new program has been time-consuming work for staff, it’s also a great opportunity. Technology and Engineering Teacher Bill Van Loo is thrilled to have the chance to work in the new maker’s space lab. “The wonderful thing of course is how it impacts our whole community,” Van Loo says. “The things that we’re able to do because of those resources from our whole community deciding to come together behind this.”
The sense of community was clear throughout the dedication ceremony. A2 STEAM PTSO Co-President Robyn Sorensen says the rapid success of the school is a credit to the families that stayed at Northside Elementary. “We wouldn’t be here without original Northside,” she says. “Everyone was so welcoming to all of us who came from outside the neighborhood and PTSO, parent-teacher-student-organization, that’s everything we’re all one here.”
School Board President Deb Mexicotte says the success of AAPS A2 is truly a collaborative effort, and that’s certainly a case at A2 STEAM. “Everyone of our schools because of the community that’s built, because of the work of the staff, because of the way that the students partner around their education, we have all these stars in a constellation at the Ann Arbor Public Schools,” Mexicotte says. “In looking at this you are today one of the bigger stars.