Junior School Annex Construction January 4, 2023

When considering the experience for our students throughout the construction process of the Junior School Annex this year, there have been two key priorities:

The first is that we continue to offer our children the high-quality learning experience for which we are known and a wide variety of extracurricular activities despite changes to our campus through construction. The second priority has been to consider all the ways these changes provide enriching moments for learning in a real-world way for our students. This has led to some wonderful learning opportunities.

Learning in the Classroom

Naturally, one of the most exciting parts of the Junior School Annex project for our students is the prospect of a new playground.

In our Imagination Lab, our Grade 2 students worked with our Imagination Lab coordinator, Leigh Johnson, to explore the question: How would you design an inclusive playground for our school?

Junior School students show off their accessible playground design for the new Junior School Annex

After learning about “universal design” – an architectural term describing spaces designed for all bodies and abilities – students imagined, planned and made models of playgrounds that would be welcoming and fun to all children, regardless of age or ability.

It was amazing to see these young creators account for the Junior Kindergarten students coming to our school next year; they imagined students (and teachers) with unique mobility needs, like wheelchairs; they tackled safety concerns; and they collaborated to improve their plans as they worked. Common to their designs were features like smooth, even surfaces and ramps to accommodate wheels, trees to offer shade or shelter, both shallow- and deep-water pools to accommodate different swimming abilities; plus different-sized playground features for safe and fun play at any age.

I was so impressed by their creative use of materials like recycled cardboard, felt, pipe cleaners, duct tape, popsicle sticks and more, to realize their ideas in three dimensions. The addition of signs with messages like “Try Me!” and “Welcome, Everyone” expressed both the playful spirit of this project and students’ earnest engagement with what it means to be inclusive. 

Learning in the Library

Our teacher-librarian, Thea Wilson-Scorgie, made connections in the library for each of the phases of construction, with books set out for children on the themes of architecture, building, and design.

The upcoming transition of the library collection into the new Learning Commons has created an unexpected and ‘novel’ experience for Grade 5 students. After focusing on identifying and defining various genres of fiction during their weekly library time, they worked in groups to debate and to sort an array of fiction books into genre categories.

A student-made design of the distribution of books for the new Learning Commons

Our library technician, Jolanta Robertson, applied new colour-coded labels to these books, which students genre-fied themselves! Our library is looking fresh, and this genre-fication plays an important role in supporting independent student browsing in the library. With their knowledge of the new organization system in the current library, the Grade 5 students were then given the blueprint for the new Learning Commons and set the task of envisioning where these genre-fied sections could go in the future space.

This real-world design challenge required students to consider the functions of various parts of the library book collection, the imagined use of the physical space, and the learning needs of all SMUS students – from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 5!

It certainly helped that during our Junior Kindergarten admissions process, we all got to see our youngest future SMUS students in the school. Their presence created more excitement about the project and inspiration for our student learners. We are all truly thrilled to welcome our youngest learners into the Junior School community in September to enjoy this new space with us!

Learning from the Experts

With the thrill of seeing the construction day by day, students have been keen to speak with and learn from members of the build team.

Earlier in the year, we welcomed Shaun from Merrick Architects to present to the students. Shaun connected to the students through the love of Lego. Just like the instructions contained within the box of Lego, he explained that the architect’s job was to create those instructions for the various trades coming in to build the Annex. With beautiful 3D and fly-through visuals, he was able to show students what the Annex would look like when complete. He also connected the architectural work on the Annex to the very same design cycle students learn about in the iLab. Like students did with the accessible playground project, architects highlighted how the real-world projects they work on also need to consider how the space will be used and how it will meet the needs of all the people in that space.

We also welcomed Ryan Sahlstrom and Doug Mace, both Directors/Project Managers with CanPro, to speak to students about the building process. The children have had chances to informally ask questions to various builders throughout the project (during recess and lunch) but it was great to hear directly from Doug and Ryan. They communicated their love for building and how they came to work in construction through their grandfathers. It was evident to us all listening to them that many leadership qualities are needed to keep so many people working cohesively. Doug and Ryan described how they move through the process of taking the instructions from the architect,  and helping the teams of people follow the instructions in order for everyone to see the plans take shape. Highlighting this real world example of collaboration further emphasized the importance of this Portrait of a Learner quality for students at the Junior School.

Throughout this project, children have demonstrated their curiosity and resilience. Each child is very excited to get into the new space. In the meantime through to the end of this school year, we feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to use the project as a stepping stone for learning this year – and it’s evident our students are loving these opportunities, too! While we had initially worried that this year would be limited, we see that it has presented us with another opportunity, and one that is being fully embraced by teachers and students.