Construction at Gunn Junior High Will Impact Future Learners
Most schools are quiet right now as students started the school year learning online from home. But not Gunn Junior High. It was even louder than a normal first week of school with demolition, renovation and new construction – plus instructional development – all going on at the same time. The Bond 2019 project to renovate and build an addition to the school turned Gunn into a busy construction zone throughout the summer and now into the fall. With the addition and renovations, Gunn will become home to a new junior high fine arts and dual-language academy while continuing to serve the 7th and 8th grade students zoned for the school.
If you come to Gunn – and many parents and students have visited recently to pick up devices and school supplies – it looks like nearly every corner of the building and site has work going on.
Inside the existing building, renovations for the fine arts rooms include dance, piano, theater and music. The band, choir and orchestra rooms are almost finished, and the theatre and dance spaces are underway. Outside, a new parking area on the west side of the building is now open. Construction of a new fire lane loop is complete on the west side and continues around the north side of the building. Work on the north-side parking lot should be finished by mid-September. The athletic field is getting resurfaced with field turf and will be ready in September as well.
Work on the additions is also ongoing. The piers for the main addition on the south side of the building and for the addition between the two existing buildings (the main school building and the cafeteria and gym building) have been set and foundation work continues. The two additions will open next school year.
Construction and COVID make for a unique mix of challenges, but Gunn principal Dr. Matt Varnell sees them as opportunities. The new normal has Varnell and the Gunn faculty looking at things differently. “We are challenging teachers to rethink how they deliver instruction and how students demonstrate learning,” Varnell said. “We are re-envisioning how kids show us what they learn.”
The Gunn teachers are considering and implementing tools other than the standard test that can demonstrate learning. For instance, video recordings, interactive online collaboration tools and even students designing their own animations all offer students ways to engage with the material and demonstrate their comprehension and mastery. Using creative ways to assess student learning is more engaging and often allows students to extend beyond the limits of traditional tests. “Our teachers are really embracing this,” Varnell said.
Impact and inspire
The new mindset fits perfectly with the philosophy Varnell already champions.”We are changing the question from ‘How smart are you?’ to ‘How are you smart?’ Every student is smart in some way. The key is tapping into their interests, identifying their strengths and inspiring them to learn. Construction really is going on in every corner of Gunn, and not just on the buildings. The new tools and philosophy that Varnell and Gunn’s teachers are exploring during this unique phase in Gunn’s history are helping build a new instructional model that will impact and inspire students long after the pandemic has passed and construction crews have gone.