Letter: New Westport school will meet critical student needs

EastBayRI.com ·

To the editor: 

I write to you today as an educator, a parent of two children in the Westport schools, and as a member of the Westport School Building Committee.  As I listen to the discussion regarding the building of a new middle-high school here in town, I rarely hear much about what this will mean for the children of Westport and how it will transform their education.  While I completely understand why most of the conversation revolves around finances, please allow me to illustrate what a new facility will provide for the students of Westport.

• On average, the size of the physical space in our classrooms at WJSHS is approximately 200-300 square feet smaller than the state of Massachusetts requires in new buildings. Research shows that collaborative learning, where students meet in small groups and work together to solve problems and do hands-on learning, is the most beneficial way to teach. The size of our learning spaces now means that collaborative learning amongst students becomes next to impossible if the only way to set up a classroom is in rows for traditional lecture. The new facility will provide ample space for movement and interaction so students will be learning not just from their teachers, but also from their classmates through inquiry-based projects.

• Science classes need access to water.  Currently, not one science classroom at the junior high school has access to water inside the room.  The rooms most junior high classes occupy were never meant to be classrooms at all.  Not only does the lack of water limit the opportunity to do labs and experiments, it is also a major safety hazard.  This will undoubtedly be cited when the school is up for its next accreditation.

• Currently, there is nowhere in the building for hands-on learning.  The new building project will provide a makerspace and a fabrication laboratory which will make real world connections to classroom instruction possible.  Taking textbook physics and math and applying it to solve real world problems is the next level of 21st century learning.  In order for this to be possible, teachers need the space and resources the new building can provide.  

• Not all students learn the same way or at the same speed. With this in mind, teachers need the opportunity to work with small groups of students to review, remediate, or reteach.  Right now, this is almost impossible with the space constraints at the junior/senior high.  All available space is being used all of the time.  The new building will provide breakout rooms where teachers will be able to take small groups and help them with what they specifically need.  This Response To Interventions approach has shown a lot of progress, but without the appropriate places to implement these ideas, continued growth is limited.  

• Finally, the current setup has middle school students as young as 11 years old sharing the same building with 18 year olds.  While great efforts are made to keep them separate, there is simply no way to do this in a facility with one gymnasium which is at one end of the building and a cafeteria at the exact opposite end.  The new design essentially creates two schools with little, if any, intermingling.  Each school will have its own gym, its own locker rooms, and its own cafeteria.  Students at the high school will have their own identity and the students of the middle school will be able to enjoy having a school designed just for them.

These are just a few of the transformational benefits that students would see daily if a new school were to be built.  Students  of Westport have watched almost every community around us engage in some kind of new school building project and wonder why they are crammed into a less than ideal environment.  I encourage everyone to attend a forum and listen to the benefits a new school in Westport would provide for our children.  

Jonathan Bernier

English Teacher at WJSHS

Member of the School Building Committee



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