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Celebrating a new space for STEM

Celebrating a new space for STEM


LADUE • To get input from his fellow teachers of science, technology, math and engineering, Justin Little doesn’t have to look far in their new space at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School.

The faculty area, designed as a workspace for teachers when they aren’t teaching a class, puts everyone in those disciplines together in the school’s new building, rather than isolated in classrooms.

“Just at the spur of the moment, you’ve got that collaboration,” Little said. “It’s very practical.”

That focus on collaboration in science, technology, math and engineering, or STEM, courses was the approach behind the design of the newest building at MICDS. The $39.5 million project includes McDonnell Hall and Brauer Hall on the school’s upper campus. In total, the new construction and renovations make up 86,000 square feet.

The idea started several years ago with an overhaul of the curriculum by teachers to focus on hands-on learning in those disciplines to encourage students into STEM careers. But the school’s old facilities, built 50 years ago, were not meant to teach 21st-century science, said Lisa Lyle, head of school.

The extra space triples the kinds of experiments they can do, teachers say. And those experiments or lab demonstrations can also happen quickly if the teacher wants them to in state-of-the-art “clabs” — spaces that combine traditional classrooms with laboratories.

“These are facilities that fully support learning for kids,” she said. And since the overhaul of the science and math curriculum, students are averaging more hours in STEM-related disciplines than they were five or 10 years ago, Lyle said.

Students began taking classes in March in the new building. MICDS officials announced the project in 2011 after receiving its largest gift in the private school’s 155-year history — a $21.5 million donation to construct a building for science, technology, engineering and math. The donation was from MICDS alumni James S. McDonnell III and his wife, Elizabeth Hall McDonnell, and the JSM Charitable Trust. A donation from Stephen F. and Camilla T. Brauer made the student and faculty community areas possible. In all, the school received almost 300 donations for the project.

The project shows just how great a space can be built to inspire students, said James Brown of the Washington-based STEM Education Coalition.

Todd Andrews, senior associate and project manager with Centerbrook, said: “We think we’ve been able to design one of the top STEM buildings for independent schools in the nation.” Centerbrook provided the architects who planned the building and similar ones in Cleveland and Connecticut.

The process started with meeting with teachers to hear what they thought would make an ideal classroom. They also wanted to make sure the design looked different than typical hallways and classrooms, creating pockets of space where students could gather and collaborate.

But with all of the features, some teachers say the size itself is their favorite part, allowing them more space in a classroom to break out students into small groups. The “clab” spaces are 30 percent larger than a typical high school classroom.

Had the school given each teacher their own individual classroom rather than a joint work area, the learning spaces would have been significantly smaller, Lyle said.

Junior Elsa Storts said she was impressed by all of the new features in the building. It has been exciting to take classes there, she said.

“It seemed like a college,” Storts said, as she sat in the new commons area last week doing work for Advanced Placement biology with three other girls.

Other highlights of the new space:

• It’s “green” — the expansion was designed with features to save energy and use water efficiently. Officials are pursuing the highest certification in a system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. The building has solar panels and a 10,000 gallon rainwater harvest tank buried in the courtyard. The features are not only sustainable, but a learning tool. Touch screens throughout the building show students how much energy and water the new building is saving at any given time.

• A tech help desk is staffed by students and teachers daily for computer issues.

• There are study areas throughout the building, including a commons area with a fireplace, and outdoor learning spaces where students can access Wi-Fi.

• The Brauer Auditorium brings in natural light and seats 800.

• Each classroom space is set up for small group work, including the ability to write on walls of dry erase boards.

• The robotics lab includes a 3D printer and other specialized tools.


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Jessica Bock is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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