St. Francis’ information center plugs into 21st-century learning

11/30/2012
BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Center director Jonee Lee speaks at the dedication ceremony at St. Francis de Sales High School. The center opened this fall to students, parents, faculty, and alumni.
Center director Jonee Lee speaks at the dedication ceremony at St. Francis de Sales High School. The center opened this fall to students, parents, faculty, and alumni.

If the new Student Achievement Center is supposed to serve as the face of modern learning at St. Francis de Sales High School, it certainly looks the part.

The large glass windows, comfy meeting places for students, SMART boards, flatscreen TVs, and abundance of computers and eReaders all scream 21st century education and give the space a college campus feel. But what may say the most about how students now learn is what’s missing: the books.

The new 6,000-square-foot center, which opened this fall, combined two classrooms and the library to create the information center, a place where St. Francis students can research or get academic coaching or tutoring. But few physical books are in the room, which was built as an addition to the school’s main building and overlooks the track and football field.

“This center is designed to be a place where students spend time, want to be here, and learn,” St. Francis Principal Eric Smola said Thursday during a dedication ceremony for the center.

The lack of books, at least non-ebooks, is by design, said Jonee Lee, achievement center director. The center is about the students, and students learn in different ways, she said. Some might learn best with visual aids, others with voice prompts. The technology in the achievement center provides St. Francis the flexibility to serve those different styles, Ms. Lee said.

Theology teacher Mike Wielgopolski helps senior Alex Lincoln prepare for an exam at the new Student Achievement Center at St. Francis de Sales High School. The 6,000-square-foot center, dedicated on Thursday, has SMART boards, computers, flatscreen TVs, and few physical books.
Theology teacher Mike Wielgopolski helps senior Alex Lincoln prepare for an exam at the new Student Achievement Center at St. Francis de Sales High School. The 6,000-square-foot center, dedicated on Thursday, has SMART boards, computers, flatscreen TVs, and few physical books.

“We are trying to appeal to different learning styles and be student-centered,” she said.

There are some hardcopy books in the center, said Ms. Lee, who said she was partial to the physical product herself. But as students drift more toward the Internet for information, the school has to try to reach them, she said. If a student reads a short story on an iPad rather than in an anthology, does it matter?

One wonders how LeVar Burton would have formatted the former PBS show Reading Rainbow for this apparently book-averse generation. A theme song alteration would seem required. (Take a look, it’s in a Nook?)

Marc Elfering, 17, a National Honor Society student tutor, showed off the work stations, which include glass-enclosed rooms that look like business meeting spaces and booths fit for a diner.

Most stations have a flatscreen TV that students can connect to with an iPad, displaying lessons, research, or work problems for group study sessions.

“It’s nice if you have a group of guys,” Marc said. “You don’t have to hover over a paper.”

Students mingle near the large glass windows in the Student Achievement Center that overlook the track. The center was created by combining two classrooms and the library. It was built as an addition to the main building.
Students mingle near the large glass windows in the Student Achievement Center that overlook the track. The center was created by combining two classrooms and the library. It was built as an addition to the main building.

The whole place, he said, is really awesome.

There’s more space than in the old library, and that helps with one-on-one tutoring. The center is open on Sundays and weekday evenings for after-school tutoring sessions. There’s a separate entrance, and the center is open to faculty, parents, and alumni.

Now, when Marc tutors a classmate in, say, physics, he’ll pull up curriculum online. The school developed a Web site, sfsachievement.org, which has interactive academic tutorials, sections dedicated to each subject, database access, and other services.

Rarely, it appears, will there be a need for a physical textbook.

Reading Rainbow has been off the air since 2006. But there is, appropriately, a Reading Rainbow iPad app.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086