Champaign school officials tap UI for north side proposals

CHAMPAIGN – University of Illinois students showed off their ideas Thursday evening of what a new school campus in Champaign might look like.

School officials and community members heard about ideas for a Great Campus in north Champaign that would include Stratton Elementary School, the Early Childhood Center and Columbia Center.

The ideas included putting a community building, conservatory and organic garden on the campus; ideas for a curriculum for a dual language school; what a school dedicated to the arts might look like; and how a school media center could get children involved in social issues in the community.

The presentations Thursday were the result of a semester-long "scoping" study – a collaboration among the UI and community leaders to come up with ideas for a preschool through eighth grade lab campus, in which the various buildings would be linked by curriculum and site design. The concept calls for a campus that would pilot the best teaching practices and the expertise of the UI. It could also help the school district meet its requirement under its federal consent decree to put more seats north of University Avenue.

Tracy Parsons, president of the Urban League of Champaign County, said the study was "a model of community participation at its highest level."

Carol Ashley, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the district's consent decree case, said the partnership with the UI is what the judge in the case is looking for.

"The notion that different aspects of the community come together to focus on how to create a quality school is tremendous," she said. "It's a great testament to what we'd like to see in the whole consent decree process. This is the spirit of the consent decree."

Imani Bazzell, head of the Urban League's Center for Civic Engagement and Social Justice, said she was touched by the way UI faculty and students took the ideas for the Great Campus to heart.

Those involved with the Great Campus initiative will prepare a report that synthesizes all the ideas presented and make recommendations. Eventually they will submit a proposal to the school district.

Bazzell said several ideas, including small class sizes, an extended day and a full-service campus, offering services to parents as well as students, are critical to the initiative. She said working groups are fleshing out some of the ideas for the Great Campus.

Students plan to stay involved as well. Rochelle Gutierrez, a UI professor of curriculum and instruction, said her students "took very seriously not to let this be a one-semester thing and then disappear." Some of them plan to continue work on the Great Campus ideas through research projects.

Dan Archibald, a graduate student in landscape architecture, enjoyed working on a project with people in the community.

"It's neat when I can meet up with people who are in the community and get involved and try to meet their needs, rather than just whatever I think might be a good design," he said.

He talked with teachers at Stratton while working on his design. He particularly liked the inclusion of a community center to provide health care and employment services for parents.

"Teachers really stressed the community center," he said. "They thought that's what was needed. They want to get parents involved as much as possible."

Janine Prillaman, a graduate student in curriculum and instruction, worked on a plan for a school with an ecology theme that would include energy-efficient buildings built with environmentally friendly materials, use non-toxic cleaning supplies, and have a recycling program, among other things.

"It's a natural theme considering we're an agricultural university," Prillaman said. "It ties in with engineering and chemical science. It's a good fit."

She said such a school would be healthier for children as well, particularly those suffering from conditions like asthma.

Stratton Principal Sandra Duckworth said she's excited to see how existing programs at her school, such as schoolwide enrichment, could be expanded with the Great Campus initiative.

"It seems like a fire has been lit here in Champaign, and that's what's exciting about it," she said.

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