JOPLIN, MO.--- When the tornado hit Joplin on May 22nd, 2011 it caused a very significant amount of damage to the Joplin School District, affecting students in all grades. The task of rebuilding has not been an easy one, but it's something Dr. C.J. Huff said had to be done, and done well.
"What we've done with the design moving forward, this is the 21st century. It would've been a travesty to build, let's say Irving Elementary School, back as it was built in the 1920's. Times have changed, education has changed, the needs of education have changed," said Dr. Huff
Dr. Huff says they spent a lot of time talking with teachers and other experts in the field of learning to try and figure out what a 21st century learning environment would look like. He says they not only wanted to build back for today, but create facilities that will still be relevant in the future.
"The idea behind a 21st century learning environment is a lot of creativity, a lot of opportunities for independent learning, as well as team and collaborative learning. Our teachers are well trained in those areas. Often times their abilities are limited because of the spaces they have available," said Dr. Huff.
That's exactly what has happened at Irving and Soaring Heights, but the question now is how can all this work in other facilities? Facilities like Columbia Elementary School, that was built in the 1920's.
"It's more challenging because now you're trying to take 21st-century vision, and put it in an 18th or 19th century box," said Dr. Huff. "We've got some creative staff members who found out ways to do that. Space was really an issue prior to the storm, we were bursting at the seams everywhere."
He says they are working to update the older elementary schools with a variety of changes, even adding color to paint can make a difference.
"Making some adjustments to our older school. To create a better learning environment for our kids. Example of that is adding color inside the schools, you know there are brain friendly colors. It doesn't cost any more to add color than it does to paint your walls white," said Dr. Huff.
Not only that, but he says they have plans to get new furniture or flexible furniture as he called. They also plan on adding carpet tiles to classrooms, not only does it make the school quieter, but it helps with energy efficiency. The buildings themselves, new and old, can also be an issue when it comes to space and population.
"We went through a lengthy process last year of redistricting our elementary attendance zones to meet the demands and growth of our community following the tornado, we had a significant shift in our population. Pockets of growth for putting stress on our elementary schools, which ultimately will lead to a lot of stress on some of our middle schools," said Dr. Huff.
The district does still allow permitting at the elementary level, but only as space allows. KSN asked Dr. Huff if he's had any parents wanting to go to Irving or Soaring Heights following their reconstruction.
"What you know we have some of that, but I think that most people outside of the building, I think people need to remember it's relationships inside that building that's what's important. Personally, I had no parents coming to me and say 'hey I want my kid to go to that school because it's a new building," said Dr. Huff.
Isaiah Basye is a first grade teacher at the new Irving Elementary School, and he has seen first hand the difference the new building has made on the kids.
"There are a lot of cool opportunities that we had that we didn't have at the old building. We can work more as a unit and as a team, it felt more divided there," said Isaiah Basye, Irving Elementary School Teacher.
Basye says he, like many of the teachers, find a hard time thinking of anything negative about their new school, but he says there is something everyone needs to keep in mind.
"One of the things we got to watch out for, this is a building, we can't let the building do all the work. We don't want people to look and say 'wow look at that building.' We want them to say 'wow look at those teachers," said Basye.
The school district is doing its best to keep the level of education the same across the board. Tomorrow night in part two, KSN talks with a realtor and a mom who is in the market for a new home. We'll see from their perspective how the redistricting and the new schools has affected them.