By Sam Uzwack, Associate Head of School for Middle School and Student Support Services
Returning to full-time, in-person learning reminds us of all that we missed during our time away. For me, so much of what is amazing about our community is found in the less formal moments—the walk between buildings, the quick check-ins at lunch, the impromptu dance party on the LPC patio. Simply being together, roaming on campus, and immersing oneself in the culture—that is one of the most powerful agents of learning we have.
Another theme emerged as we returned to campus: we really missed all of the creative and intentional spaces our campus has to offer. Much as our common spaces provide the environmental cues that impact behavior, so too do the rest of our spaces. As I have often opined in these essays, teaching culture takes time, intentionality, and persistence. Otherwise, it drifts, fades, or is supplanted by outside forces. And since we had been in our own spaces (bedrooms and so forth) for the prior however-many months, we all have to learn how to use shared spaces once more.
The restrictions of COVID brought into sharp relief just how important flexible space is to our teaching. Throughout the spring for all students and into the fall for our fifth- and sixth-grade teachers, the challenge of spaced rows of seats was immense. In a given class period, tables are moved together for group work, reconfigured for discussions, and pushed out of the way for more kinesthetic pursuits. Now, the last few formal rows of desks have given way to collaborative pods, a welcome sign of our slow emergence from the pandemic.
WHEN EASTSIDE PREP WAS FOUNDED, THE GOAL WAS TO BRING TOGETHER A DIVERSE ARRAY OF LEARNERS IN ORDER TO SOLVE CHALLENGING PROBLEMS BY DEVELOPING INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS.
When Eastside Prep was founded, the goal was to bring together a diverse array of learners in order to solve challenging problems by developing innovative solutions. In other words, group work is the key. The collaborative spaces peppered throughout the TMAC and TALI buildings provide Upper School students the space and tools to support this group inquiry effort. While a few of our collab spaces needed to be used as offices during our Middle School Construction project (more on that in a moment), we have now returned a number of them back into service.
Perhaps no other space can move people like a theatre: a space of possibility and promise; a space where we can gather as a community; a place where art can reflect society and society can learn from art. When we were at last able to have seventh and eighth graders back in-person together for assembly, I overheard something I had not heard before: “I can’t wait for assembly!” The only way to practice being a community is to be in community, and that’s exactly what our theatre space allows for. Our Director of Fine and Performing Arts, Ginger Ellingson, reminds us all how to be a supportive audience—which is not a passive role, it is an active one. The whole of the Upper School gathered prior to Winter Break, and we look forward to assembling our entire Middle School in short order.
A quiet, cozy, contemplative space in which you can gather yourself, curl up with a book, and take a break from the fast-paced day that is life at EPS—that’s what our library has become for all students. Formerly located in the Middle School, the library now sits in the Levinger-Poole Commons above the dining area. Middle School students may visit during their study halls, and Upper School students can take advantage of the space during free periods. Our Librarian, Elin Kuffner, has been hard at work adding new books to the shelves and getting the word out about the new space.
OUR NEW MIDDLE SCHOOL
OK, I am biased, but I saved the best for last. We have just completed our Middle School remodel. The goal of the project was to bring the teaching spaces in line with those in TALI and TMAC, to create the room to be able to implement our Advisory program, and to produce an environment that reflects the developmental span that is Middle School. By unifying two buildings and reclaiming lost and hidden square footage, the new home for the Middle School features two large common spaces dotted with soft furniture, a dedicated makerspace, two sets of classrooms that can be joined together, and more. The views out of the classrooms feature the surrounding trees. With operable windows, ample charging capacity, and flexible storage, the new classrooms will allow our teachers to teach in the way they know best. We’ve replaced projectors with eighty-six-inch touchscreen televisions that can also serve as our broadcast equipment.
Also, students are finally able to put their backpacks in their lockers—they now fit!
All kidding aside, this project has been a long time coming. The Middle School was subdivided to make way for the construction of first TMAC, and then TALI Hall. Gone are the classrooms with no natural light and no space to spread out. In its place, a space our community can be proud of that will inspire students and faculty alike, all while preserving the very bones with which we started the school nearly twenty years ago, on one floor, in one building, in an empty office park.