Avon Grove Charter School unveils new collaboratory
● By Steven Hoffman
Avon Grove Charter School students will be more prepared to collaborate and innovate following the opening of the new collaboratory at the school’s State Road campus. Kristen Bishop, the CEO and Head of School of the Avon Grove Charter School, described the collaboratory as a 21st century educational resource center that offers flexible spaces for students to work together, create, and learn.
Bishop and Avon Grove Charter School welcomed elected officials, including State Rep. John Lawrence and several school board members, as well as charter school parents, for the official unveiling of the new space on Nov. 1.
The collaboratory features flexible, modern spaces that will allow students to work together at booths or at tables. There’s a desk that will be staffed by a technology coach. Small groups or classes can utilize a small lecture area that features a stadium seating arrangement. A conference room offers space for both staff and students to work together on a project. There’s plenty of natural lighting, and a door leads out to a secure courtyard area that has some additional seating for small groups. There is also a small bistro called Wolf’s Brew Cafe and a new school store in the collaboratory.
“We’re very excited to be opening our collaboratory,” Bishop said, adding that initially it will be the high school students who will utilize the collaboratory the most. However, the plan is to have all the students in the school be able to use the flexible space sometimes. Students in the lower grades, for example, might visit to receive instruction for a specific assignment from a technology coach who works in the collaboratory. Or two classes might come together to listen to a presentation or to work on an assignment.
Part of the Avon Grove Charter School’s comprehensive strategic plan included a resource center where students could work collaboratively on projects because that’s the direction that 21st century education is heading in. While there was a clear vision for the project, accomplishing it was not easy. With an enrollment of approximately 1,850 students, the charter school’s two buildings are fully utilized. In order to create the space for the collaboratory, the facilities at the Kemblesville campus were expanded so that the third grade could be moved there from the State Road campus. This opened up enough space for the collaboratory. The charter school was also able to relocate some of its business staff from a rented office to the State Road campus, saving on the rental costs in the process.
Overall, the collaboratory cost about $1.5 million to design and build. Charter school officials expressed their gratitude to Heckendorn Shiles Architects, BSS Contractors, and Cooks Service Company for doing the work on the project.
Donna Archer, the Chief Financial Officer of the Avon Grove Charter School, said that it took about three years of work to reach this point. She recalled a trip that she and Bishop made to Florida for a meeting so that the Avon Grove Charter School could earn an investment-grade rating for the bonding of the project. This resulted in much more favorable interest rates for the school.
Bishop explained that the charter school has a facilities committee that works hard to find ways to make the most out of the two school buildings. She also talked about the spirit of cooperation between the charter school and the Avon Grove School District. Archer also said that the community is very supportive.
“It is a team effort,” Bishop added. “It is all for the kids.”
Charter school officials were very excited about the educational opportunities for students that the collaboratory will provide.
Bishop noted that when you go to a Starbucks, you’ll see lots of people enjoying a cup of coffee, but you’ll also see both students and adults working. Sometimes they are working together with the people seated right next to them, and sometimes they will be utilizing technology to talk to someone thousands of miles away. That kind of collaboration is what the collaboratory is expected to bring to the Avon Grove Charter School. She said that the collaboratory will help prepare students not just for college, but for the workforce as well.
“We’re helping the students build those skills that employers need,” Bishop explained. “People need to be engaged, and they must be able to collaborate. This is very exciting for our students.”
In addition to the official unveiling of the collaboratory, the school’s choir, performing arts department, and band all performed for the visitors. It was a fun way to unveil the new addition to the charter school. Bishop and the Avon Grove Charter School staff also provided tours of the building to visitors.