How Building a New School Became the Catalyst for Educational Transformation
In 2007, Ridgemont Local Schools in Hardin County, Ohio were struggling with buildings that were in ill-repair. Former 5th grade teacher, Sally Henrick (now Superintendent at Ridgemont), says, “People were so attached to the old school. They would drive by and think how beautiful it was.” And this was true from the outside. Sally went on to share, “Every time it rained, I would have water coming through my windows.” Old buildings were not conducive to students doing their best work.
Could simply upgrading buildings to fix structural problems transform education? It could not, but new buildings could become a tangible, visible, concrete expression of the need for change. Ridgemont graduate and then board member, Eric Hill, said “When I came back in 2003, I got a sense that the attitude toward the schools was that they were ‘good enough.’ Why expect more? But then all of this started happening. You saw teachers and students taking on bigger ideas; you saw a vision coming into focus. You start to see success, and it becomes irresistible. It’s empowering. You want to be a part of it.”
Using the backdrop of school construction, the Superintendent, Emmy Beeson, was able to help craft a shared vision. SHP: Leading Design, architects of the new Ridgemont Campus, state they work on school projects and engage stakeholders for input around the community’s hopes, dreams and needs in a new facility. However, SHP notes that “The Ridgemont staff and stakeholders were doing something more. It was not simply following our process to get community involvement; it was taking ownership of the intent of the process, in a way we had seldom experienced before.” When an organization’s mission is taken seriously it becomes the pulse of the organization. It declares their purpose. It is a powerful organizing tool that helps to “heal old wounds, inform decisions, to clearly articulate the vision that an organization is setting for the future and a means of holding itself accountable.” At Partnerships, we help schools and school districts uncover their shared vision and implement the supports necessary to make their vision a reality.
“Emmy has a radiant energy and vivacious work ethic and understands how to build trust, creates vision, engages others, and is a true model of servant and transformational leadership. Emmy’s background in curriculum and instruction has provided her a strong commitment to public education and she believes our best days are in front of us. Her goal is to see Ridgemont’s educational system become an experience that parents and students cannot resist. Emmy is not a superintendent that followed the traditional mold of ‘getting the work of education done, according to the way it has always been done.”
— Stephanie Jolliff, Ridgemont Agricultural Education Teacher, President OAAE
The shared vision at Ridgemont became Designing the Future.
And to do that, the district made a commitment not to only invest in dynamic learning spaces for students, but also dynamic and authentic teaching and learning practices. The primary learning strategy to be adopted was service-learning. “The students who learn through service-learning are still learning the same content that they might need to cover to pass a standardized test,” says Kathy Meyer of Partnerships for Authentic Learning and Leadership. “But they learn at a deeper level, an emotional level. They learn to connect those lessons with real-world application that is relevant to their immediate lives. Teacher’s don’t want to teach static information. They don’t want their efforts and instruction to be boiled down to memorization and retention. They want to help students learn and understand, apply and incorporate lessons into life.”
This vision to learn and understand and then apply and incorporate into the lives of students can be seen in a wide variety of authentic learning experiences as a part of service-learning that have taken place over the years with the support of Partnerships for Authentic Learning and Leadership.
First Graders design, create, and sell Christmas ornaments to raise money for gifts for children in foster care.
Academic skills - oral communication, problem-solving, counting money, graphing sales, using money to make purchases, and empathy to those in challenging situations
Kindergarten through Third Grade students study and design compost bins with the help of the high school Ag students. Students collect compost from the cafeteria and use their compost to grow plants on the school grounds.
Academic skills - research, writing, persuasion (visual, oral, and written), classification, understanding the science of decomposers, design, math in construction, and responsibility to the school community
High school geometry students interview kindergartens about the most comfortable and efficient picnic tables. High school students design the table blueprints using geometric shapes and mathematical principles. HS Ag students build the kindergarten sized picnic tables.
Academic skills - interview skills, interpersonal skills, note taking, decision making, measurement, angles, circumference, height, width, length, etc., compassion for those who are younger
High School Language Arts students design a public awareness campaign for the local domestic violence shelter called Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. Students walk in high heels to raise funds for the shelter.
Academic skills - research, interview skills, writing, presentation skills (both oral and written), event organization, financial responsibility, understanding of the frightening statistics around domestic violence, empathy and compassion for those who are abused, responsibility to do something about it.
The examples go on and on. Ridgemont is a school district designed around the real -life application of academic skills through the use of service-learning. Learn more about the Ridgemont Story with this video or read Irresistible - A story of how passionate leadership and smart design changed a school and a community.
“ I believe Emmy will bring a deep understanding in the value of envisioning future education that comes from experience, along with an even deeper and rarer understanding of the challenges and rewards of implementing cultural change to a teaching and learning community. Without reservation, I recommend Emmy to guide you through educational cultural change. I leave you with my favorite of Emmy’s questions: “How do we make school irresistible to children? ”
— Todd Thackery, AIA, CEFP, NCARB, LEED AP, Vice President of SHP