Celentano Museum Academy
Contextual Historical Design Promotes 21st Century Learning
The “old” school, exclusively serving special needs students from across the city, consisted of a series of small, outmoded buildings and an historic observatory (circa 1888). After a comprehensive planning process, the small buildings were demolished and the new museum magnet school emerged, a pre K-8, urban, inclusion school, fully integrated with the architecture of its neighborhood, and the educational environment of the adjacent university. The design of the 88,000 sq ft. new facility housing 488 students reflects the scale and style of the historic residential district where it is located, and features teaching spaces that enhance the school’s commitment to project-based learning as well as its ongoing collaboration with university graduate students and the nearby museum of natural history. It was a central goal of the planning committee that new school have classrooms limited to 20 — 22 students, promoting increased interaction between teachers and students and reflecting the best practices of active learning and constructivist education,
Located next door to the traditional campus of the university’s divinity school, the new school is contextual with its historic (1870- 1910) neighborhood of rambling, brick and shingle houses, whose residents were concerned that the new school not be “too big” for the streetscape. Consequently, from the outside the design feels very much like an arts and crafts period home, with large spaces including gymnasium, cafeteria/auditorium, courtyard and mechanical units placed in the interior. This massing of the large spaces in the interior also serves as an organizational element around which classrooms are arranged on all floors.
Utilizing the peaked, shingled roof style broken up by large gables, the 2-story exterior brick and shingle façade actually contains a three-story classroom area, with the highest grades (6-8) housed on the third floor “attic.” The attic is especially appealing to the older students, with exposed rafters and sloping ceilings reminiscent of a private school facility.
The style blends into the other core areas of the school: the cupola- topped ‘cone’ rotunda provides the main entrance to the school, leading to classroom wings and the cafeteria/auditorium space, as well as a gymnasium ‘hidden’ in the courtyard. The courtyard sides of the gymnasium take advantage of natural light with full windows, giving its interior spaces a more modern feeling than the period façade might suggest.
Among features of the school are:
* rotunda exhibit space for the display of student-created museum projects;
* smaller studio classrooms in the restored historic observatory for project labs and exhibition space;
* physical therapy facility to serve the significant number of special needs students
* the unique “writing in the sky” sculpture - designed in collaboration with the school’s students- and part of the percent-for-art program established by the city for all its public school projects.
Inspirational Environment Where Teacher Is Coach & Advisor
The school, a preK-8 urban, inclusion school integrates its content curriculum into a full day literacy block (focusing on the school district’s KIDS FIRST 2008 strategy of promoting and ensuring the rigorous implementation of pre-k through Grade 12 standards based curriculum, differentiated instruction and the use of appropriate assessments). We do this through the delivery of rigorous instruction, a relevant curriculum and meaningful, supportive relationships using project based learning (PBL). PBL includes:
(a) primary source research (object learning) outside the classroom (in museums and the community);
(b) secondary source research (technology via the Internet and print media in the library media center/classroom); and
(c) knowledge products (authentic assessments) which we, as a museum school, call “exhibits”. Students curate and install four museum-like exhibits annually using inquiry into these themes:
(1) who I am,
(2) what discoveries I can make,
(3) places I’ve never been and
(4) the interdependence of me and my environment.
The products are created in the Observatory in workshop spaces where work in progress can be developed and enhanced over the course of a project (sometimes as long as a marking period). Examples:
(1) Block building in the Construction Site in the room designated the Children’s Museum; transferring the “hands on” experience to a “minds on” map making project; then constructing a neighborhood out of empty boxes (buildings) in the workshop space for an exhibit, “our school’s neighborhood” (integrating math, science and social studies content into the literacy block).
(2) Creating dinosaur caves in the Children’s Museum room, visiting the real dinosaur caves at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, constructing a replica of diplodocus in the workshop and painting it in a parent workshop prior to the “exhibit preview” (integrating science, social studies and primary source research into the literacy block).
(3) Using microscopes and hand-held enlarging lenses to study bones and muscle fibers in the Peabody Museum Learning Lab, transferring the object learning to visual drawings, using and graphing muscle flexibility in the classroom and constructing more efficient muscles in the workshop space as part of the exhibit “more to explore” (integrating science, math, object learning and technology into the literacy block).
Museum schools can offer ways to help all students learn. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences supports the viewpoint that schools should be designed as museums to support a variety of learning styles. Developing projects and assignments that enable students to use these multiple intelligences in mastering curriculum reaches some students in ways that other instruction does not. Active learning characterizes the instruction at (the school) with the teacher functioning as coach and advisor offering the best practices of constructivist education, project-based learning, authentic assessment, and multiple intelligences.