Focus group gives students inside track at Douglass

Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Friday, May 12, 2017

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“This is going to be an awesome place,” said Principal Lester Diaz, who led students through the worksite.

“This is going to be an awesome place,” said Principal Lester Diaz, who led students through the worksite.

“This is going to be an awesome place,” said Principal Lester Diaz, who led students through the worksite. The main foyer at the front of the school features a block "D" for Douglass.Open-concept classrooms will differ greatly from the familiar, traditional setup. Students couldn't resist trying out the new combination locks.One commanding architectural feature incorporated thanks to the focus group is a social stairway near the cafeteria, complete with USB ports. Douglass is on track for completion this summer and opens its doors to students on Aug. 16.

Wrapping up a 3½ -year journey, the Frederick Douglass High School student focus group recently gathered for one last tour and Q&A before the new building opens this summer.

The students, who hailed from several feeder schools, have met regularly to follow the construction progress on Winchester Road, to learn about sustainable elements such as the geothermal heat pump buried 300 feet under the parking lot, and to offer suggestions for what Fayette County Public Schools calls a 21st century design concept.

“It’s a bright, welcoming environment that’s flexible for teachers’ and students’ needs,” said Reagan Smith, a junior at Henry Clay High School.

Key features include flexible grouping and collaborative classroom spaces, interdisciplinary small learning communities, versatile technology, mobile teacher workstations, project and problem-based learning, and outdoor labs. The focus group has also talked about the new model of career academies, which will help students see the relevance in their learning while building relationships within the school and with community partners.

“These students are in a new century with opportunities and challenges unlike the recent century. They need to become skillful critical thinkers and problem-solvers. This school exists because of them, and they need to be collaborators in their learning environment,” said Susan Hill of Tates Hill Jacobs Architects.

Tresine Logsdon, the school district’s sustainability curriculum coordinator, praised Hill’s passion for working with students and engaging them at Douglass. For instance, Hill encouraged the group to help with decisions like paint colors, parking configuration, use of lockers, library space, and accommodations for varied learning styles. 

Hill and colleague Michael Hughes led the final hardhat tour as students walked through several nearly complete areas, including the auditorium, the main and auxiliary gyms, and the art and music wing. They also saw open-concept classrooms that will differ greatly from the familiar, traditional setup.

Among the highlights Principal Lester Diaz pointed out were huge windows in the art studios that allow in lots of natural light; a ballroom-like bonus space where cheerleaders, the wrestling team, and others can practice; high-end Dell laptops for teachers that interface with students’ school-issued Chromebooks; and digital textbooks so that “learning can happen anytime, anyplace.”

One commanding architectural feature incorporated thanks to the focus group is a social stairway near the cafeteria, complete with USB ports. “It adds character and gives kids a central hub to congregate,” Diaz said, adding, “This is going to be an awesome place.”

Reagan, who plans to stay in Henry Clay’s Liberal Arts Academy for his senior year, is nonetheless impressed by the prospects for students at Douglass. “It’ll be an exciting opportunity to step into a new environment and potentially take on leadership roles,” he said.

Meanwhile, rising freshman Annika Maxey is looking forward to making the move from Edythe J. Hayes Middle School. “It’s really cool to see the (high) school before I start in August,” she said. “A lot of people are excited. It’s brand new!”


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