The Ottumwa Courier

October 12, 2013

Real-world learning

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Formulating the ideal use of space in a structure is typically the job of an architect. For the next week, that job belongs to Cardinal High School students.

Joel Pedersen, superintendent of the district, said a contest to redesign a space in the school has prompted some real-world learning. The district that wins can earn up to $1,000 for their school.

Students came from Eldon to work at the Ottumwa Leadership Academy.

Just in case they had trouble with the design, they were able to consult with professional architect Tyler Baumgarten of Curtis Architecture in Ottumwa. The Great Prairie Area Education Agency sent Seth Denney, a technology specialist, to work with students.

Around 10:30 a.m., they received organizational advice from the head of the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, a multi-million dollar charitable organization devoted to the betterment of the local community.

"Build your team," said ORLF president and CEO Brad Little. "In addition to math and science, you need someone who can tell your story."

"He got us thinking about organization," said Ryley McElderry after Little left.

He'd shown them how a steering committee discusses a goal but then gets to work. Each young person would have to be accountable for the particular task they were assigned. To come up with those tasks, they could "begin with the end in mind." What do we want the place to look like, what do we want it to be able to do? So after they decide "why" the space needs to be improved, they'll also be able to see what needs to be done and can work out how it can be done.

"Here's this long trophy case; look how high that goes," said student Logan Rachford, pointing out how the space above the display could be used constructively. Classmate Tyler Albert was keeping track of what the space looked like using his laptop computer.

In fact, they said, why have the trophies hidden away? Why not get them out front, Rachford said, so that as soon as visitors enter the school, they see the trophies.

Little also talked about the idea of consulting fellow students to see what they want. Not only can that honor the opinions of their fellow students, but decision-makers may appreciate the idea that this wasn't just what five or six people decided for everyone else.

But to do that feedback justice, Harrington decided, they needed to get that input at the beginning, before all decisions had been made.

Jesse McClaughlin, another Cardinal pupil, warned his fellow team members they'd have to get moving if they wanted students to receive the message between classes: Their "advisory period" would end at 11:52 a.m. It was 11:05. Student Ellen Peters quickly put together a single survey question: If kids could change one thing about their school lounge area, what would it be?

There'd be time to tally those later. Before the first answer came in, the students were onto their next task.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark