The new and much-discussed University Park Elementary School building opened its doors for the 2018-19 school year, and the reviews are in from teachers, students, and administrators alike: Awe.
Amenities of the second of the new Highland Park ISD elementary school buildings to be completed as part of the district’s bond program were shown off and fawned over.
The new building includes three stories, shared spaces for each grade level called ‘learning pods,’ a gymnasium that opens to an enormous playground, two acoustically-sealed music rooms, a science lab, an art room with more than 10 workstations, and a store where students can purchase University Park spirit gear.
The sheer size of the school is quickly noticed, but learning pods are proving instrumental in helping the space feel cozy and comfortable, teachers and administrators said.
“Our special sections and our staircases keep us all close together,” principal Candace Judd said. “So even though it’s a big school, we still feel connected. We’ve achieved a close-knit feel, even with three stories. We see each other all the time, and this place is so centrally located, it really still feels small.”
Each grade level has its own corner of a floor, with three to four classrooms per grade all surrounding the shared-space learning pod. During free-work times, students are allowed to go out into the pod and complete their assignments, while being in perfect view of any of the four teachers. This promotes interaction within the classrooms, Judd said.
Tables, chairs, and an electronic activity board are also being put into each pod for interactive lessons between all classes.
“The new school is actually super cozy,” said Lauren Williams, University Park fourth-grade teacher. “Students have told me they feel like this is more of a home. At the old building, we had smaller classrooms and smaller hallways. But here, even though it’s big, we have a safe environment.”
Several students in Kenley Larkin’s third-grade class mentioned being excited about the new school year to start, because of the new building. Those students also mentioned “having fun” climbing the stairs, the size of the new playground, and the ease of which they see other students every day despite the school’s size.
“It’s been really easy for everyone to get comfortable here,” Larkin said. “The students have really made themselves at home in the new building, and that makes our job easier as instructors.”