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New Edgewood school a learning tool in itself

CHRIS DORST | Gazette photos
Instead of traditional classroom settings, students at Edgewood Elementary will learn in large, open, colorful “exploratoriums” and be led by teams of teachers. The school is still undergoing minor construction but will be ready for students on the first day of school in August.
Kanawha County Schools facilities director Chuck Wilson (left) and School Building Authority architect Ben Ashley admire the woodsy view at Edgewood Elementary, Kanawha County’s latest school to be built.
Air ducts, piping and cables are left exposed and color-coded at the new Edgewood Elementary School in Charleston to help students learn more about the building’s inner workings. Construction continues on Kanawha County’s $21 million “school of the future” and is expected to be finished in time for classes to start Aug. 11.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While Kanawha County’s newest school, Edgewood Elementary, is still under construction, exposed parts of the walls that show the building’s inner workings won’t be covered up when the school officially opens its doors in August. They’re supposed to be that way.

Sections of the ceiling are missing tile, and instead are covered in an array of colorful cords and pipes. The sprinkler system is orange, hot water pipes are red, cold water pipes are blue and air supply ducts are purple — which will make it easy for students to identify them.

Interactive dashboards along the school’s hallways monitor real-time data about energy usage, including heating and cooling and water levels. A schoolwide competition of which wings of the building saved more energy will be part of instruction once Edgewood’s inaugural class enters on Aug. 11.

“One of the themes of the school is that the school itself is a learning tool. They’re able to see what’s going on in the building and learn from it,” said Chuck Wilson, facilities director for Kanawha County Schools. “It’s like a museum. It’s supposed to be more hands-on.”

The $21 million “school of the future” is filled with these “conversation starters” — many of which are geared toward environmental health. A green light will pop on in the classroom if CO2 levels rise, and students will then be instructed to prop open low-hanging windows — barely off the ground so the smallest students can reach them.

Reflective aluminum tubes shoot natural light through the ceiling, and water fountains have filtration systems attached.

For the most part, there are no traditional classrooms. Instead, dozens of students at a time learn in large, open “exploratoriums” where teams of five teachers are available for instruction and students break into groups or work individually to focus on several different parts of one lesson.

A “performance area” connects the second/third grade center and fourth/fifth grade center and provides a stage where students will be expected to present their projects and practice public speaking in front of large groups.

Teachers have been training for the unique curriculum for years, Wilson said.

“The whole idea is project-based learning so kids get assigned a project that involves all different disciplines to study and then go in different areas to do that,” said Ben Ashley, an architect with the state School Building Authority, which helped fund the project. “They’ll get the whole experience in one area. Instead of going to different classrooms, it’s all in this pod.”

The 52,000-square-foot school on a scenic hilltop on Edgewood Drive in Charleston is among the nicest and most expensive in the state, Ashley said.

“We haven’t done this to this extent before — to use the rooms as a learning tool like this,” Ashley said. “It’s the most technologically advanced school, and the kids will benefit from that.”

The school will be filled with iPads and Apple TVs, along with expansive wireless connections. A TV production room sits in the computer lab so that students can make quality morning announcements.

Several patio areas are attached to the building, allowing students outdoor workspace and a view of the forest and the plentiful deer that roam the secluded hillside.

While officials like Wilson and Ashley are proud to boast the school’s unique features — there’s even a tricycle path outside for the youngest students — and its high-tech safety features — including a mantrap and plenty of sight lines to outside — there’s hope that the building’s core mission can turn around historically low student achievement in the area.

“That’s exactly why the authority funded the project a couple of years ago. We wanted to give every kid we can who may not have an advantage at least a fair shot,” Ashley said.

The school will consolidate the student bodies of Watts and J.E. Robins elementary schools on Charleston’s West Side, both of which closed earlier this year.

Most of the students in the Edgewood attendance zone come from low-income families and live on the West Side, which is infamous for drug-related crime.

Edgewood Elementary will have an in-house Prestera Center, which will offer mental health services to students and also provide on-site counselors. The center will even have a room with one-way glass so that counselors can observe how at-risk students interact with others.

“The demographics here are unique to the state,” Wilson said. “There are other cities in West Virginia that have similar things going on, but not on the scale of what’s going on here. There are some kids that have had traumatic things happen to them. They have behavior disorders. There are lots of sad cases. So this is a way they can get a lot of specialized one-on-one counseling and training.

“Getting children out of the environment of the West Side, it’ll take their minds off of some of the problems and issues they faced walking to school previously,” he said. “Now we’re bringing them outside of that area into more natural surroundings and maybe they can concentrate more on what they’re learning.”

While work on the school building is ongoing, Wilson said it will mostly be finished in time for the first day of class, and an official groundbreaking ceremony is slated for September.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at, 304-348-4814 or follow @MackenzieMays on Twitter.

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