Lots of excitement surrounds the new Windham STEM school

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Windham - posted Tue., Aug. 13, 2013
A large sundial on the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy grounds will be used for teaching. Photos by Melanie Savage.
A large sundial on the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy grounds will be used for teaching. Photos by Melanie Savage.

As Principal Jeffrey Wihbey led a tour of the new, multi-million-dollar Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy on Friday, Aug. 9, the school’s teachers reacted enthusiastically to some of the building’s impressive features. With the building’s Certificate of Occupancy issued on Aug. 8, the tour was the first opportunity the teachers had to get a glimpse inside the building where they will spend the bulk of their waking hours for the next nine months and beyond.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” asked Carolyn Wheeler, who will be teaching technology at the new STEM school.

As Wihbey led the tour through the bright and airy new music room, music teacher Joe Tomanelli bounded over to a desk in the corner. “These are what your kids will be making,” he said, demonstrating a banjo made from a plastic milk jug and other recycled items.

The excitement was palpable, as the group headed through room after gleaming, airy room. In the cafetorium, Wihbey took the time to point out a gigantic stainless steel soup cauldron in the kitchen. “Remember that crock pot we had in Windham?” he asked. In the oceanography room, Wihbey pointed to nooks that will hold two large aquariums - one for saltwater fish, the other for native freshwater species. The newly-completed gymnasium contains a massive, floor-to-ceiling climbing wall. There is a kiln in the art room. Outside, there is a brand new playground, a sensory garden, a vegetable garden, a teaching rock garden, a sundial, and a courtyard featuring plants and a rock-filled “river” complete with wooden arch bridges.

“Now don’t get jealous,” said Wihbey, as he led the group into the pre-k and kindergarten wing. The classrooms were decorated in soothing, friendly colors, and the floors will be radiantly heated. Kindergarteners “spend a lot of their time on rugs on the floor,” explained Wihbey.

“We have the most beautiful school on the eastern side of the state,” said Wihbey, as he wrapped up the teacher tour, adding that the academic performance would be equally as impressive.

The Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy is a new, regional, pre-K to 8 magnet school in Windham, enrolling students from the greater Windham area. The school has enrolled approximately 300 students for its first year in grades K, 1, 2, 5 and 6. Students were chosen via lottery. In its second year, the school will add grades 3 and 7, moving up to full enrollment of approximately 600 students for year three with the addition of grades 4 and 8.

The school’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics focus “will help students gain important cognitive and academic skill, enhancing their ability to think critically, solve complex problems and work collaboratively,” according to the school’s website. “Our teaching methods, state-of-the-art technology, laboratories, classrooms and equipment provide students with the tools they need to apply effective critical thinking skills to any challenge,” reads the site.

The 83,700-square-foot school is sited to take advantage of solar energy. The building utilizes photovoltaic energy and passive solar hot water. A wind turbine in front of the school generates electricity. All laboratories, classrooms and interior spaces are set around a center courtyard where rain-water runoff is channeled into a natural bio-filtration swale. Wihbey said that hydro-turbines located within the system provide “a nominal source of electricity.” And due to an abundance of natural light, “You could pretty much not turn on the lights in any classroom,” said Wihbey.

The building is assured of qualifying for the silver level of LEEDS certification, according to STEM Coordinator Holly Harrick, but they are hoping for gold. “It’s a very green building,” said Harrick.

And aside from the building, “the staff is fabulous,” said Wihbey. “Every single person wants to be here.”

Aug. 26 is the first day of school at the new Windham STEM school.

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